The world umbrella organization of the organic movement, IFOAM, supported the GMO-free March/Right2Know March in the United States. Over a long period of time the organization has been fighting for the labelling of genetically modified ingredients in order to give consumers choice when they buy food. The former President of IFOAM, Katherine DiMatteo, took part in the Right2Know March/GMO-free March from New York to Washington. We spoke with her on the twelfth day of the march in Baltimore. Her credo is: many roads lead to the goal.
(Picture: Joseph Wilhelm and Katherine DiMatteo)Mrs DiMatteo, IFOAM supports the march, and you yourself are taking part for some of the way. In your opinion, what is the best strategy – apart from the march – to achieve the aim of labelling food that contains genetically modified ingredients?
We really need several approaches if we’re to get the US government to change its current approach to the question of labelling GMO-food. For about ten years now, the government has argued that labelling is not necessary because there are no differences requiring statutory labelling between genetically modified plants and conventional plants. We’re now focusing on a multiple strategy: the march is a highly visible event, a small group of people trying to draw attention to the issue of labelling. At the same time, we’ve launched the online petition Just Label it
with the aim of collecting, at national level, hopefully more than a million votes in favour of labelling. Over 200 companies are involved in the campaign and are helping via their distributors and social media to propagate the information. This has been very effective. In the first week alone we’ve collected over 160,000 signatures. If we can get a million or more signatures, the government can’t any longer say that people aren’t bothered about this issue. That’s the response we’ve often had from the White House. So we really need a lot of signatures to prove to the government that the opposite is true. The march will finish on 16 October, but the online campaign will continue. And in California, there will also be a campaign for a year with the aim of getting labelling legislation introduced in that state. California is the biggest food producer in America and often plays a pioneer role. So we’ve got several irons in the fire – we’ve sent a petition to the FDA (the US Food and Drug Administration), we’ve got the initiative in California, the online petition and the Right2Know March, and we’re hoping that together all these initiatives will open the door to successful discussions with the government in Washington. But we’re also hoping that this will help us put pressure on the manufacturers to buy in GMO-free ingredients.
Do you think the situation will change in the short term?
Of course I hope things will change and that we’ll be successful with our demand for labelling genetically modified food. In the USA, there’s a constant stream of new genetically modified products being registered. But our protest can even act as another strategy to prevent new approvals. For example, GM-salmon is about to be approved, but now even members of Congress are declaring themselves against approval. Also the question of compensation for contaminating traditional or organic arable crops through cross fertilization is being discussed. I think we can achieve success on a number of points in the short term at a certain level. The fact is that, if we don’t try, we’ll never succeed.
What are you hoping for from the culmination of the Right2Know March on Sunday, October 16 in Washington – on World Food Day?
I’m certainly assuming that this event will bring together a lot of people. We already know that a number of people from our sponsors will join the march shortly before it reaches Washington. So we’ll arrive in town with quite a big group. And we’ll also be trying to motivate people spontaneously on the way from Baltimore to Washington. We’ve got some great speakers, and that should attract more people, just as much as the lively programme of music, theatre and information stands. We’ll assemble a few hundred, perhaps even a thousand, people in Lafayette Park in front of the White House. We’re hoping, of course, for some media response, especially in the social media as well, so that as many people as possible are made aware of the issue and will then get information and vote on www.justlabelit.org
Watch the interview on youtube