Out of the Kitchen and On Capitol Hill: Chefs Speak Out for GMO Labeling

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Out of the Kitchen and On Capitol Hill: Chefs Speak Out for GMO Labeling

'Having honest, clear labeling of the foods we eat is a fundamental right, one that’s worth fighting for.'

Chef Tom Colicchio testifies before Congress in 2010. (Photo: House Committee on Education and the Workforce Democrats/flickr/cc)

More than 700 chefs and restauranteurs are calling on Congress to support legislation to mandate labeling of genetically modified foods and to oppose efforts to block state GMO labeling laws.

Advocates from Food Policy Action, Environmental Working Group, Center for Food Safety, Just Label It, and other national groups joined high-profile chefs—including Tom Colicchio, José Andrés, Art Smith, and Sam Talbot—on Tuesday for meetings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and to deliver a petition in favor of a GMO-labeling bill sponsored by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California) and Representative Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon).

"As chefs, we know that choosing the right ingredients is an absolutely critical part of cooking," reads the petition. "But when it comes to whether our ingredients contain genetically modified organisms, we're in the dark. The simple truth is consumers have the right to know what they're feeding their families, and as chefs we have a right to know what we're feeding our customers."

Further, the petition points out that while 93 percent of Americans support GMO labeling, the U.S. is one of the only industrialized countries in the world without labeling laws. GMO labeling laws have passed in Vermont, Maine, and Connecticut; an Oregon ballot measure requiring labels on all genetically modified food sold in the state will be recounted after falling just shy of the votes necessary for passage in the November election.

"As a chef and father, I want to know what I’m serving my customers and kids, and the majority of Americans want honest information about the food on their tables," said Colicchio, the owner of Craft Restaurants, co-founder of Food Policy Action, and head judge on Top Chef, who authored the petition. "Having honest, clear labeling of the foods we eat is a fundamental right, one that’s worth fighting for."

Culinary insiders are increasingly flexing their advocacy muscles outside the kitchen and in Washington, D.C.—a phenomenon explored at Politico last week.

"Colicchio is part of a growing army of chefs across the country looking to channel their growing celebrity to influence food and agriculture policy in Washington, from school nutrition to the farm bill to animal welfare and even fisheries management," wrote Helena Bottemiller Evich. "Their number is legion, their ranks full of names like Rachael Ray and Mario Batali along with scores of local celebrity chefs and restaurateurs—and their increasingly organized effort backs up some of the Obama administration’s sweeping food policy agenda right as it faces down an adversarial Congress."

"Chefs are among the most influential advocates I’ve ever lobbied with," Scott Faber, vice president of government affairs at the Environmental Working Group, told Politico. "They bring a business perspective to food policy that a traditional advocate might not bring and they rise above the partisan divide."

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