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EWG Pushes Food Issues up the Hill

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

For EWG and its legion of supporters, last week was all about food on Capitol Hill.

In a series of public events and meetings on Tuesday (April 9), EWG’s senior staff and its allies worked the hearing rooms and corridors from one side of Congress to the other. They were there to make the case for major reform of federal food and farm policy and to call for mandatory labeling of foods containing genetically engineered ingredients.  Throughout the day, that message was reinforced by the presence of celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, who joined forces with EWG for the occasion.

It’s hard to know where to start, so maybe a chronological account is as good as any.

Early in the day, EWG and Chef Colicchio were there to lend support to Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) as they held a news conference to promote their legislation to reform the federal farm bill.  Their bill would support local and organic food growers, farmers’ markets and community kitchens. It would provide new resources to schools to buy locally grown food and link farmers with urban consumers. Chef Colicchio joined the event to voice his support, accompanied by EWG President and co-founder Ken Cook and Vice-President Scott Faber.

Later, Cook, Colicchio and Colin O’Neil of the Center for Food Safety held a briefing for Senate staff to discuss the growing momentum for labeling all food containing genetically engineered ingredients. For Chef Colicchio, the issue was simply about a consumer’s right to know what’s in our food. Cook noted that EWG had been “late to the party” but decided to take on the issue two years ago when he and his team realized that “more and more people were raising concerns” about GE foods, including many who don’t believe GE foods are a health risk “but want labeling.” EWG Executive Director Heather White reminded the audience that half of the world’s consumers already have the right to know what’s in their food.

“People really do want to know what’s in their food,” Cook said. “No one is talking about a warning label – no skull and crossbones – it’s for information.” More than 60 other nations already require such labeling, and O’Neil noted that 75 percent of the processed foods on supermarket shelves in the U.S. contain GE ingredients.”

Over the course of the day, EWG’s representatives and Colicchio also meet with senators and their staffs to make the case for GE labeling, farm subsidy reform, farmland stewardship, feeding assistance programs and better use of antibiotics.

Across Capitol Hill, EWG and Food Policy Action hosted a well-attended reception with Chef Colicchio that attracted more than 200 members of Congress, staff, and other visitors.  Appropriately enough, the crowd made short work of the food table.

Colicchio exhorted the gathering to “get loud” on behalf of food and farm policies that address the needs of America’s hungry, encourage responsible farm practices that prevent pollution and promote conservation and support cultivation of healthy, nutritious food.

“I hope that one day we’re not going to have to think about hunger in this country,” Colicchio said. “We can do better; we have to do better.”