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Activists go to Kathy Castor’s office calling on her to reject food labeling law

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Over two dozen anti-GMO activists crowded into U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor’s West Tampa District office on Tuesday, calling on her to oppose legislation that would prevent states from imposing their own laws requiring mandatory GMO labeling laws.

GMOs are genetically modified organisms, a source of genetically modified foods.

“We want those members of Congress, especially those on the commmitees, that we want labeling,” Dessa Stone-Pividal with March Against Monsanto told aides to Castor, as the congresswoman was not in the office. “We don’t support Mike Pompeo’s bill that takes the state’s rights away and gives it to the federal government to label,” Stone-Pividal continued. “We’ve dubbed it the DARK Act, Deny Americans the Right to Know, I think we should have the right to know, with 64 other countries have either banned or required labeling by GMO’s, and the U..S is continuing to fight against the consumer’s right to know, so we want her to know!”

The activists were able to meet with one of Castor’s aides, Steven Angotti. He took the petitions that the activists had gathered at an anti-GMO protest on Saturday telling Castor to oppose “The Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act of 2015,” a bill being sponsored in the House of Representatives by Kansas Republican Mike Pompeo. It would supersede a state’s  mandatory GMO labeling law, and would outline a voluntary non-GMO labeling option.

Whether you support or adamantly oppose GMOs, the fact is that most people want to know what’s in their food. A Consumer Reports National Research Center survey of 1,000 adults last year found that 92 percent of Americans want genetically modified foods to be labeled.

Groups representing major agriculture and biotechnology interests have poured millions of dollars into battles over state proposals to create mandatory labeling laws. In California in 2012, opponents  like Monsanto and the Hershey Co. contributed to what was eventually a $44 million war chest to defeat the measure, which they did (the proponents spent $7.3 million).

Activists also say the Pompeo bill would narrow the circumstances for when the FDA can require disclosures down to health and safety concerns. The agency can now require a label merely to help consumers make more informed choices.

The groups instead are pushing Congress to pass the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, introduced in the Senate earlier this year by U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and in the House by U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.). That bill would require labels for all foods produced using genetically engineering ingredients and prohibit manufacturers from labeling genetically modified foods as natural.

No states currently have such labeling laws in place, but Vermont is scheduled to become the first to do so in 2016. But  The Grocery Manufacturers Association — which is funded by a coalition of companies such as Coca-Cola, Unilever, Starbucks and Monsanto — and three other industry groups sued the state shortly after the law passed. The industry saw such laws as tantamount to fear mongering, since the the Food and Drug Administration considers food made with GMO essentially the same as non-GMO food.

Ken McCalvey says he’s written to his own congressman, Gus Bilirakis, about the Pompeo bill, and received a formal statement saying that the FDA & USDA are the federal agencies that review GMO products.  “He doesn’t say he’s for it (the Pompeo bill) or against it or makes any statement like that.”

Connecticut and Maine have passed GMO laws, but there are clauses in those statutes that preclude them from taking effect until other states also pass legislation. Connecticut’s law require states with populations totaling more than 20 million to pass similar laws before it takes effect, and Maine’s law is in waiting until five other Northeastern states pass similar laws.

Tampa resident Stephen Smith attended the anti-GMO rally on Saturday and said it was all about keeping the truth out of the public’s hands. “People want to know what’s in their food, if it’s modified, it it has additives, preservatives. It’s just common sense. Why would you want to take that away from people, the right to know these things?” A communications and mass media major at the University of Tampa, Smith says he understands the issue about genetically modified foods isn’t covered sufficiently in the media because companies like Monsanto do massive amounts of advertising with many major news outlets. “I understand how business is conducted.”

 

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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