Specialty Food Magazine

WINTER 2015

Specialty Food Magazine is the leading publication for retailers, manufacturers and foodservice professionals in the specialty food trade. It provides news, trends and business-building insights that help readers keep their businesses competitive.

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S tonyfield Farm's co-founder and chairman Gary Hirshberg has shifted his attention from building one of the country's most influential organic food companies to building GMO awareness. He launched Just Label It, a national campaign to bring GMO labeling to packaged foods. Here, he shares his views on the movement's efforts and obstacles. BY DENISE SHOUKAS Gary Hirshberg Takes on GMO Labeling What's the biggest issue facing the food industry? There are 1,000 reasons to eat organic, local, sustainable. But there's only one reason that most people don't or can't: they're on limited budgets. We've [also] recognized that cheap food is no longer cheap. You may not pay for it at the register, but you're paying for it some- where—in healthcare and our environment. The only way to get that gap down is with volume, which can service two objectives: paying the farmer the proper price to produce sustainable food and making it more affordable and accessible. The way through that quandary is to find efficiencies that are not at the expense of the farmer. For me, that comes down to more farmers. If more farmers are supplying my milk, fruit, or f lavorings, that means cost of transportation, veterinary care—all of the support services—goes down, because we're recreating a food economy. What made you turn your attention to GMO labeling? In 2005, the USDA quietly but quickly approved an herbicide-resis- tant genetically engineered alfalfa, solving a problem that didn't exist. Only 7 percent of alfalfa in our country was grown using herbicides. No farmer was calling for herbicide-tolerant alfalfa. It was just brilliant technology cooked up in a lab by companies who say they're feeding the world but actually make all their money from the herbicides. Then, a prestigious oncology panel appointed by George W. Bush reported that 41 percent of Americans alive today will be diag- nosed with cancer in our lifetime. In one generation, that number had doubled. What's especially chilling is that these oncologists— who are not environmentalists, not hippies from the woods—said the No. 1 cause is exposure to chemicals through GE alfalfa. I said, it's time to get our industry a lot more political. So I pulled together friends to start Just Label It because of a belief that we've got to get straightened out about chemicals in this country. Why is there resistance in the U.S. when 64 other countries have GMO labeling rules? The fight for labeling transparency is not about stopping GMOs. Real drought resistance, real yield improvements could be a good thing. Unfortunately, 95 percent of the way the technology has been applied is to produce and use more chemicals. [Just Label It] got 1.4 million consumers to petition the FDA for mandatory labeling. But we've learned about the power of lobbyists. They've seduced food companies into thinking that labeling equals reduced profit, which is simply not true. Sixty-four nations have GMO labeling and many of those countries had GMOs in the market before they introduced labeling, and it has not changed food costs one iota. The challenge is to educate the consumer and put pressure on big food companies to stop this silliness. Allow people to vote at checkout counters, not for what's in the food, but rather for how it's grown. Responses have been edited. Read the full interview at specialtyfood.com/opinion/hirshberg. Join Gary Hirshberg at the Winter Fancy Food Show on Tues., Jan. 13 at 8:30 a.m. for a talk on his insights about entrepreneurship, good growth, and differentiation. q&a WINTER 2015 109

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