Join the Citizens' Voluntary Labeling Brigade
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This action pack is meant to be a resource for participation in citizen's voluntary labeling brigade actions. This handout will outline the issues, the action, offer some general thoughts on civil disobedience or direct action, legal information, and media talking points. Please make sure to check out the legal section, especially if you plan to enter a supermarket or participate in civil disobedience!
During the Biodevastation2001 convergence (June 22-27), thousands of people are expected in San Diego
to oppose the Biotechnology Industry Organization's yearly conference.
For activists who are unable to travel to San Diego, or who want to do organizing in their local
community, June 24 and 25 are days of international action against biotechnology. Communities around
the world will be putting on workshops, holding demonstrations, holding educational events,
having pot-lucks, gardening, organizing citizen labeling brigades, engaging in direct action,
» FDA "Guidelines" on Labeling GE Foods
[edited excerpt from VT GEAN newsletter and Center for Food Safety publications]
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the regulatory body that is mandated to oversee our food supply, recently announced new so-called rules on genetically engineered (GE) foods. Despite overwhelming citizen demand, the agency has still failed to require mandatory safety testing and labeling for GE foods; the FDA merely requires that food producers notify the agency before marketing a new GE food.
This means that GE foods will continue to reach supermarket shelves without any required testing for human health problems. According to many independent scientists, these foods may be toxic, can cause severe allergic reactions, could have lower nutritional value, and could compromise the body's immune responses.
Once again, the FDA has decided to make all labeling of GE foods voluntary. Not surprisingly, no GE food producer has agreed to label its products, so consumers still have no way of knowing which foods contain genetically engineered ingredients. Furthermore, a powerful alliance of processed-food producers is lobbying the FDA to create stringent guidelines about what constitutes a food made without GE ingredients. Using the argument that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are now so ubiquitous in the U.S. food chain that it's impossible to avoid them, this group is working to ensure that an expensive burden of proof is placed on food processors who want to market non-GMO products.
Groups around the country have been urging supermarkets, coops, and other food retailers to remove genetically engineered ingredients from their store, and store brand products.
A recent focus of this work is Shaw's Supermarkets. Shaw's is owned by the British company J. Sainsbury, which has a GE-free policy for all its store brand products, a policy which it advertises widely. All products containing genetically engineered ingredients are required to be labeled as such throughout Europe.
Many groups have been working to solicit public comments to the FDA regarding the inadequacy of their "voluntary labeling" rules for GE products. Widespread public opposition to genetically modified foods has been consistently ignored by the FDA, USDA, and the EPA. Local initiatives which might have limited the spread of GMO products have been over ruled and stopped by pro-GMO policy.
» The Labeling Brigade
The first, large-scale Citizen's Voluntary Labeling Brigade in Vermont took place on March 30, 2001 at the Shaw's supermarket in Montpelier. Concerned Vermont citizens placed warning labels on thousands of food products likely to contain genetically engineered ingredients.
Because local communities have the right to identify ingredients in food, because Federal agencies have been unresponsive to citizen concerns, because Federal agencies have actively promoted genetically modified food which poses health, environmental, and social risks, because current GMO policies have been proven totally inadequate by the recent Starlink corn recalls, citizens are taking the responsibility for identifying genetically modified foods into their own hands.
There are many different roles for people to play in a citizen's voluntary labeling brigade. Some people may choose to distribute literature, provide music and entertainment, or talk with customers outside the store. Others may prefer to be inside the store, talking with customers, managers, distributing postcards, labeling, or participating in a number of other creative actions. Brigade actions can be organized as group activities or they can be done on individual initiative.
» Products that may contain GMOs
Many studies have indicated that 60% of processed foods commonly found in supermarkets contain genetically modified organisms. This stems from the fact that most process food contains either corn syrup or soy products, corn and soy being the most common genetically modified plants in fields today.
» Talking points
The following are some suggestions about what to talk about with community members that you may encounter inside and outside a store during a labeling action. Keep in mind that talking with people in the store is one of the best ways to communicate the reasons behind why you believe the identification of genetically modified foods is important.
Genetically engineered foods are unlabeled, untested and virtually unregulated. They are found in more than 60% of the processed foods sold in the United States.
Any product containing corn (corn meal, corn syrup, corn oil), soy (soybean oil, soy protein, soy lecithin), canola or cottonseed oil almost certainly contains genetically engineered ingredients unless it is certified organic.
The FDA's proposed rules call for voluntary labeling of genetically engineered foods. We say that if the FDA calls for voluntary labeling, it is our responsibility as citizens to voluntarily label genetically engineered foods.
Genetically engineered foods pose serious hazards to human health, the environment, the survival of our small family farms, and our ability to have real choices about what we eat.
Last year, over 300 food products were found to be contaminated with a variety of genetically engineered corn, known as Starlink, that is not approved for human consumption. An EPA investigation confirmed the finding that this corn poses a "moderate" risk of severe allergic reactions.
» Legal Information for Voluntary Labeling Actions
If you participate in group brigade actions you will most likely come in contact with the authorities at some point. People inside the store will likely be asked at some point to leave. Managers of the store may call the police, who will likely order people to leave. Those who choose not to leave after receiving a police order will be subject to arrest and/or forced removal.
Preparing for the action:
THIS IS A NONVIOLENT ACTION