It’s funny how things work in cycles.
My first introduction to Tarah Locke and GMO-Free Right to Know movement took place a year ago, while planning for Frances Moore Lappe’s visit to Santa Cruz. The GMO labeling issue was just heating up as people began to recognize that allowing the Worst Company of 2011 continue to secretly manipulate our food supply is truly poor planning.
Despite the fact that 90% of people in the US support the right to know, we haven’t been able to get an initiative passed through Congress. Meanwhile, as the rate of conditions like asthma and other immune system disorders continue to skyrocket since GMOs were first introduced into our food system, we’re faced with a persistent unwillingness to take action by our legislators.
But recently some exciting new developments on the labeling front have taken place, creating the perfect opportunity to reconnect with Tarah. Sometimes where our government refuses to stand up for the people, true leaders emerge, and oftentimes right here in Santa Cruz.
Activist Tarah Locke has been on the forefront of the GMO labeling issue since it began gaining traction about a year ago. This full time mom and natural chef sets a powerful example of inspiration that defies demographic.
With precedent-setting Prop 37, the Label GMO initiative on the ballot in November, it was hard to pin her down, but I managed to catch up with Tarah to discover what motivated her to fight this $25 million dollar industry battle, and more importantly, what keeps her going.
EB: Many people aren’t even aware of the threat presented to our food system by the introduction of genetically modified ingredients. What initially connected you to this issue?
TL: I first learned about genetically engineered food about four years ago doing a team report for Sociology class at Cabrillo College. But it wasn’t until I discovered my younger son’s dairy allergy that the health risks of genetically engineered food really hit home. I went deep into researching food and made the decision to try to eat and feed my family totally GMO-Free and/or organic. Radically changing our diet from McDonalds and other conventional and fast-food was a difficult and eye-opening process. Watching the film The Future of Food really got my blood boiling about Genetically Engineered foods and the devious companies producing them. Thinking about all of the people who were as uninformed as I was four years ago, who were eating GMO foods without knowing it, really motivated me to think about what I could do on a community level.
I found the Organic Consumers Association online and learned that it was hosting a series of public actions to promote awareness and get people involved. I connected with another local woman and we organized a Local Non-GMO Meeting here in Santa Cruz.
After I started a Facebook page for our local team, a woman named Pamm Larry got in touch with me about her idea of doing a California Initiative. She was traveling state-wide, meeting with people to try and find leaders. After meeting this AMAZING and charismatic woman, I realized that the initiative she had in mind was THE answer to the GMO issue, and I felt compelled to take the responsibility of leading the team here in Santa Cruz.
EB: As an activist, I’ve tried to raise awareness of the problems posed by the difficulty with avoiding GMO foods, but have been challenged by the complexity of the issues. How have you managed to reach people so effectively?
TL: Genetically engineered food involves many issues, and the science is complex, so it’s important to keep it basic to avoid overwhelming people. I start by giving a basic definition of a GMO, which is the result of a laboratory process of taking a gene from one species (typically from a bacteria, plant, or animal) and inserting it into the DNA of a different species in an attempt to obtain a desired trait or characteristic. Then I identify the main genetically engineered crops and what they are engineered to do. The majority of commercially grown GMO crops of Corn, Soy, Canola, Cotton, and Sugar beets (also some Squash, Zucchini and Papaya) are engineered either to be resistant to the herbicide Round-Up, or to act as a pesticide that will kill pests when they eat the plant. (The GMO corn plant, Bt Corn, is actually registered as a pesticide with the EPA.) Then I go into how GMOs have NOT been thoroughly tested long term on humans by independent studies. I HIGHLY recommend the film The Future of Food for an excellent explanation of the GMO issue. (I heard that you can find that movie on Hulu, Netflix, or Youtube.)
The best way this grassroots campaign can reach people is through on-the-street canvassing (handing out flyers & talking with people), through social media, emails, and having other like-minded organizations reach out to their networks. We encourage everyone to go sign up on www.carighttoknow.org to receive informational emails, volunteer for their local groups, and send out that info to their friends, family, and networks. That way the info is spread quickly and its spread from valued connections.
EB: Lots of states have tried to pass legislation requiring foods containing genetically modified ingredients to disclose that information on the label, but every one of them has caved under industry pressure. It took a grassroots groundswell to get Prop 37, the Label GMO bill onto the ballot in November for public referendum. What’s at stake here?
TL: Fifty other countries ALREADY label their foods for genetically engineered ingredients. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for California and ultimately, the United States. If Prop. 37 does not pass in November, then we will NEVER have the ability to know if GMOs are in the food products we buy and biotech corporations will continue to develop and produce more GMO crops. Right now there are 12 new GMO crops waiting to be approved. These crops include soy, corn , and canola engineered to be reisitant to a suite of hebicides including 2,4-d (Agent Organge), glyphosate, glufosinate and imidazolinone, and an insecticidal corn from Syngenta. Another one of these crops is an apple that won’t turn brown. Now WHY the heck do people need food to be cosmetically appealing?! I do hear kids complaining all the time about how food “looks”, but our society needs to change the way we are teaching our kids to eat. We don’t need biotech patenting apple seeds just for them not to turn brown. You’re losing biodiversity and nature’s way of saving seeds that have natural weather and disease resistant traits. See more here: http://www.panna.org/blog/flood-advisory-ge-seeds-clog-pipeline
EB: Thanks so much on behalf of health and rights conscious people everywhere for the work you’re doing. What can your supporters do to help?
TL: Please go to the website www.carighttoknow.org and sign up to help spread the word.
We NEED everyone! It only takes a small amount of time, and if one person tells a hundred of their acquaintances, and then they each tell 100 more, that adds up so quickly. We are trying to get out ’Yes on 37′ signs and Yard signs all over our community (To get one, contact us by email, or at 818-8487, or at our Sept. 11th meeting, 7pm at the Live Oak Grange)
We will soon be inundated in Anti-Right to Know TV ads with the opposition’s lies and deception, Prop 37 is extremely well written and careful to avoid the things that they will be saying about it. So we all need to stand up to these chemical/ junk food corporations and demand Labeling! We cannot be kept in the dark any longer! This is the time for securing our right to know what is in our food! Let’s stop the deception and get a label on our food!
For readers in Santa Cruz County:
1. Join us on facebook GMO-Free Santa Cruz,
2. Sign up for our email list to learn about upcoming events & outreach opportunities, send us an email to email@example.com and tell us “add me to your contact list.”
Radio show: www.righttoknowsantacruz.com
VOTE YES ON OUR PROP 37 TO LABEL GMO FOOD!
Tell everyone you know to vote yes! Our fundamental right to know, giving us the opportunity to make informed choices.