Organic industry CEOs: “It’s a war” over GMOs

By Ken Roseboro
Published: April 1, 2011

Category: GMO Contamination of Organic Foods

Gary Hirshberg, CEO, Stonyfield Farms

Gary Hirshberg, CEO, Stonyfield Farms

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Following US Department of Agriculture approvals of genetically modified alfalfa and sugar beets, leaders of the organic industry recently met to discuss strategies to address threats posed by GM crops and USDA’s failure to address those threats.

The meeting, held at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim in March, featured Walter Robb, co-president, Whole Foods Market, Gary Hirschberg, president, Stonyfield Farms, George Siemon, CEO, Organic Valley, Michael Funk, chairman of United Natural Foods and president of the Non-GMO Project, and Robynn Shrader, CEO, National Cooperative Grocers Association.

“This is about freedom of choice”

Gary Hirschberg spoke about the biotech industry’s influence on the US government. “The chemical companies have deep roots in all three branches of government,” he said, citing that the biotech industry has given $22.4 million to members of Congress.

Hirschberg said that “aggressive research” was needed to expose GM food risks, as well as legal efforts to limit GM crop expansion and consumer efforts to demand government action.

“This is about freedom of choice, about taking back our country,” Hirschberg said.

George Siemon described USDA’s GM crop regulations as a “complete failure.”

“USDA is releasing products without regard for other parts of agriculture,” he said.

Siemon also said that the fight over GMOs is not limited to the organic industry. “There is a much bigger community,” he said, referring to producers of conventional, non-GMO crops.

Siemon spoke about the need to develop a pure non-GMO seed supply because the largest source of GMO contamination is from tainted seed.

Organic Valley has tested its feed and found GMO levels between 0.1% and 0.2%.

Echoing Hirschberg’s comments, Siemon said, “We need to stand up for our rights.”

“Godzilla vs. ants"

Michael Funk pulled no punches describing the battle between proponents and opponents of GMOs. “It’s a war. It will be a long, hard fight for years.”

While some people have described the battle as David vs. Goliath, Funk went further. “It’s Godzilla vs. ants,” he said. But he said that ants working together can destroy a forest.

Funk emphasized the importance of the Non-GMO Project in preserving the non-GMO integrity of organic and natural foods. “There is one thing we can do now and that is to participate in the Non-GMO Project,” he said.

USDA’s “crowbar” regulations

Robynn Shrader discussed four strategies her association is promoting: 1. Contacting President Obama to express outrage over GM crop approvals. 2. Support the legal effort led by the Center for Food Safety to stop new GM approvals. 3. Support farmers and the organic and natural food industry. 4. Lobby for mandatory GM food labeling.

Also needed is a “regulatory strategy to manage an unfriendly USDA,” Shrader said. “We need multiple strategies.”

She also encouraged the organic industry to work together with consumer and advocacy organizations. “We need to weave the industry and non-governmental organizations together.”

Melissa Hughes, general counsel for Organic Valley, described USDA’s crude, GMO-friendly GM crop regulations as a “crowbar” and said that new regulations developed in 2007 have never been implemented.

“There needs to be a coordinated effort to work with USDA to update their rules,” Hughes said.

“Time to act is now”

In a question and answer session, audience members and speakers suggested a range of other strategies.
David Bronner, president, Dr. Bronner’s Soaps, suggested a march on Washington, DC. Michael Funk suggested actions during Non-GMO Month in October. Another audience member said: “It’s time for civil disobedience.”

Hirschberg emphasized the need for action in the next 18 months before another and more hostile administration possibly comes to office. “We have to be organized and speak as several million voices. If we miss this opportunity, our children won’t forgive us.”

In his closing remarks, Walter Robb said: “This is a crossroads with everything on the line. It’s time to act, and the time is now. There is room for everyone in the tent.”

© Copyright April 2011, The Organic & Non-GMO Report