|MF: Mike Fry |
BN: Beth Nelson
EK: Elizabeth Kucinich
BN: We’re always pleased when we have a guest from the Center for Food Safety joining us to talk about the variety of the breadth of the work that they do there, but today we have a new guest with us. Her name is Elizabeth Kucinich, and she is their Policy Director, which is kind of fun for us, because we’re going to be talking broadly about the work of the Center for Food Safety. We’re not going to be getting down quite as much in the weeds as we have in the past about genetic engineering, what does it mean to clone something, or why the heck are we trying to turn fish into something different? Elizabeth is going to share with us a broader look.
MF: She’s an advocate for organic food. She’s an advocate for vegan food. She’s a producer of films, and she’s got a broad breadth of knowledge about the safety of our food. Welcome to Animal Wise Radio.
EK: Thank you. It’s great to be with you today.
BN: Elizabeth, maybe you could do us a favor and remind our listeners who the Center for Food Safety is, and what types of work you engage in.
EK: Absolutely. The Center for Food Safety, speaking for someone who only just started in May of last year, I can speak maybe a little bit more objectively about the organization in that I sought it out. It’s such an extraordinary group of people in Washington, D.C., and also on the West Coast, who really work and I guess primarily litigate where the government declines responsibility to regulate on many different areas of our food supply.
I joined the Center for Food Safety because they truly in my opinion are the leaders in the food movement on so many different areas. You’ve talked about genetically modified organisms and the areas of genetic engineering at Center for Food Safety. Someone mentioned GE treats before the break. Obviously, animals and salmon have been a really big issue, and picking up crops, herbicide-resistant and pesticide-producing GMO crops are massive concerns to us. As an organization, they’ve helped to prevent at least seven crops from being deregulated and grown in the United States. That’s a tremendous achievement on their part.
Also, we work on pollinating protection, be that butterflies or the bees. I’m sure everybody has heard about all the different stresses that there are to our ecosystem because of the decline in these populations. We work very much on a policy level, but also in a very practical way to help with these issues. We look at factory farming and industrial agriculture, and monopolizing factors in so many different ways – pollution of our environment.
We also look at the drugs that are in our food. I am, as you mentioned, vegan, so I don’t eat meat, but people who do eat meat need to be concerned about the increasing number of drugs that animals are being fed as growth promoters, among other things. I’m sure people have heard about antibiotics and all of the issues around them, and antibiotic resistance that’s developing.
There are also other drugs such as ractopamine and zilpaterol, and those drugs are used to really bulk up the animal just before they are slaughtered. Not only do they increase the weight of the animal, they also make their hearts blow out and have horrible effects physiologically on the animals. They put them in great pain. Actually, the ractopamine is the largest contributing factor to all the downed animals that we hear of in our agriculture system.
It’s a very, very broad array of issues that we really try to key in on. I’m sure I’ve only just scratched the surface in my description.
BN: It is a really broad array. I think that one of the things that as a layperson I really appreciate about the Center for Food Safety is that not only do you have staff that understands the scientific aspects of the work, scientists that are putting together reports, gathering data, trying to look at implementation of new technologies from a critical perspective, not just, “Hey, isn’t this great, it’s brand new,” so you have that kind of a foot in science. You have a foot also in that grassroots movements through just communicating out to laypeople like myself who eat food. Mike eats food as well.
MF: Most of the people in the radio studio right now eat food.
BN: Right – but the true food network I think is really a great symbol of that. You ask us to become active in the conversation, but then also in the courts, which I find sadly a really necessary piece of the work that you do. It seems like there are many, many times that you end up going to the court system to try to protect consumers and people like me.
MF: To me, when I look at the food system in our country, it just seems to me like that’s one of the reasons I am such a fan of the Center for Food Safety. You look at what we’re up against with these major industrial organizations – big ag, big pharmaceutical companies, big chemical companies merging with big ag – what they’re putting in our food is just horrific. I read the typical ingredients on a package of food in the grocery store, and I can't even pronounce most of the stuff that’s in it!
EK: I was talking to a friend of mine. We were making dinner last night. She’s actually from Lebanon, so she’s still learning English a bit. “What’s this ingredient? What’s that ingredient? Is that bad for you?”
I said, “Look. If you can't read it and you can't pronounce it, it’s probably bad for you.” That’s a general rule of thumb. We as consumers do not have to overcomplicate this. We can understand that food labeling is revealing, even as much as they try to cover it up.
MF: That’s a great place for us to take a quick break. When we come back, we’ll have more with Elizabeth Kucinich from the Center for Food Safety.
MF: We have got a fascinating guest on the line. Her name is Elizabeth Kucinich. She happens to be the wife of Dennis Kucinich.
BN: Or he happens to be her husband is the way I like to look at that.
MF: He served in the House of Representatives for many terms and is just an all around good guy. I personally think we need more people in the legislature like him who are obviously not influenced a lot by big corporate interests; the kind of people we need making policy about our food and environmental issues.
She’s actually a vegan, advocates organic food, and has produced a couple of documentary films. One is “Hot Water.” The other is, “GMO-OMG!” about genetically modified foods. She’s a perfect person to be having the conversation with about food safety.
BN: And policy coming out of the Center for Food Safety. I was really pleased when we learned that Elizabeth was going to be our guest, because as I said earlier, a lot of times we’re talking specifically about a certain campaign or a particular issue that has come up in the courts or is sort of hot in the Internet world and social media world. The victory report that recently came out from the Center for Food Safety I thought was a great point to start a conversation, because back to Beth being a layperson, I feel like it really is quite a battle right now in the world about what kind of food we have access to, what’s the truth in the labeling, and what’s being planted on our public lands? It was really helpful for me to look at some of the work of Center for Food Safety and grassroots efforts that have grown from their work that highlighted some milestones.
On break, I asked Elizabeth if we could maybe touch on a couple of the big milestones from last year. She went straight to the one that she wanted to highlight, but I’d like to highlight a couple briefly before we get to the big one, Elizabeth.
One of them that I stopped on was the idea that genetically modified seeds and grasses were being planted on public lands on wildlife refuges. You actually had to go to court over this, if I’m remembering this correctly. Is that a good recollection on my part?
EK: Yes, absolutely. But what I’m particularly interested in, and it’s great to talk about on a radio show, is the food movement is really building, and it doesn’t only relate to directly the food that we’re eating, but it really does, as you’re saying, relate to the whole issue of life and the growing of plants and land, and our connection with the earth.
One thing that is of great interest to me as well – and I know that you’re interviewing me, but just turning the tables here a little bit – is as a member of the food movement yourself, what was it as part of that particular battle that you felt was really important?
BN: What I felt was really important about that was exactly the connection that we do have with the natural world and how if we’re not even protecting those lands that are supposed to be the people’s lands from …
MF: From intrusion by genetically modified foods and not even knowing what chemicals we’re putting on them or what we’re doing in those spaces.
BN: Right; and believing so much. A foundational belief for us here is just that even the most lowly insects are an important part of it. I guess concurrent to that battle about the grasses and the public lands is just the understanding of what’s happening to our pollinators right now because of genetically modified crops, and how I think the line is really short between the use of genetically modified crops and the effects they are having on pollinators. I just worry about the broad implications if we just start casting these seeds everywhere.
EK: Really, everything that you’re picking up on and everything that we’re discussing today and I’m sure that you discuss more generally at other times is an innate understanding that we are connected to the earth, that every single system is connected to another system, and our agricultural policy and our agricultural practices really are going to the very call of what it is to be alive and how we as an ecology stay alive.
The monopoly agriculture that we have, which is so heavily dependent on fossil fuels, on the application of petro chemicals in the form of be it nutrients, pesticides, or herbicides of any kind, we really are destroying the very foundation block. We need to start shifting very, very quickly to understanding that as you had joked about in the studio, everybody in your studio probably eats. I think you all eat, and everybody who’s listening on this radio show, we all eat. Our food system is the thing that affects us most and also connects us most to life itself.
The pollution of our food supply, the pollution of our ecology, and the destruction of all of the different forms of life that there are due to the way that we produce food is something that’s of tremendous importance to all of us. Each of these victories that were outlined in the Center for Food Safety Victory Report really adds like a diamond almost of different phases of the food movement, of the issues that we already face as challenges.
The fact is that, as you mentioned, the victory on public lands and also as I’ve wanted to talk about, the victories that we’ve had in Congress over the last year where the continuing resolution that was passed earlier last year contained a provision that people dubbed the Monsanto Protection Act. That was in there, but only in there for six months. The food movement made so many phone calls to Congress, so many letters, so many emails, and had such pressure on the members of Congress that that provision was only alive for six months, and in the next version of the continuing resolution, it was not included at all. This is an enormous victory.
When we understand that the powers that are on the other side of this debate are so strong in economic power and in political power and in so many other ways that the food movement has really started to flex its muscle on Capitol Hill, I think we’re really getting somewhere.
MF: It really is, as you say, a David and Goliath sort of situation. I think the food movement has been such a grassroots effort that really I would say in the last five years has become a groundswell. People really are becoming concerned about their food.
As you were speaking, I just want to go back a little bit to the earlier topic. One of the things that’s so important about not only what you just talked about, but the first win that Beth was talking about is the realization that popped into my head is that when we eat, when we consume food, when animals consume food, that’s how energy is spread through our ecosystem. It’s really the thing that ties us all together is the consumption of food. That’s also how pollution and contaminants spread through the system. That’s why keeping the food system pure is just critically important. You can't put that in any one system without it spreading everywhere.
BN: And that’s why the job at Center for Food Safety is so big. Elizabeth, I’d like you to dive in a little bit deeper to talking about the big win in the area of work that you’ve been focused more on – the labeling of food genetically modified food.
As I’ve been tracking it, and Mike has been tracking it some, it seems like we’ll follow an alert, and it we’ll say, “There’s going to be a vote in California.” In California there was the big vote around if should food be labeled. Companies like Monsanto were pouring in millions of dollars, and companies that you wouldn’t necessarily think were pouring millions of dollars in – like Coca-Cola.
MF: Soda companies.
BN: It was defeated because of this huge effort. What’s happening in Congress is one thing. What’s happening at the state level is another thing I’m curious about.
EK: It wasn’t an ultimate win for all those people who are interested. We fought two major ballot initiatives now; one in California, and one in Washington State. We’ve been outspent a gazillion times to one. The votes that the other side have managed to pull that they did win – they won by two points – it was around $18 or $20 a vote when you work out how much money these companies spent.
BN: Well, their pockets were deep enough.
EK: Between those two ballot initiatives, 70 million dollars were spent to keep the consumers in the dark. It’s an enormous amount of money. This is to some degree a David and Goliath when it comes to financial resources, but everybody eats, and everybody’s starting to wake up.
The issue of labeling foods and GMO labeling in general is one that now is a national conversation. It’s one that has moved very squarely to Washington, D.C. as groups such as the Grocery Manufacturers Association, who is the association that represents all of those very large food industry types, they were the ones that were the largest contributors to them.
MF: I think it’s really hard to come up with an argument against food labeling. If people are going to put it in their mouths and eat it, they should know what they’re eating.
EK: Exactly. We have a right to know. We should know, as you said before, what we put in our bodies. It’s the energy that we carry. We should really know what it is that we’re consuming.
That’s all it’s about. We’re not saying that GMOs are good for you, we’re not saying that they’re bad for you. We’re saying we want to know whether they are in the products that we’re buying.
BN: Elizabeth, just a little secret. Whenever I write a letter to Congress or sign a petition and send my special little note along, here’s my line: “If it’s so great, they should be proud of it, and they should label it as such.” They should be very proud they’ve come up with this technology and they should let it come from the rafters.
I’m curious, as you look at the past year and you’re getting your feet wetter and wetter in this circus, do you have any thoughts about where this movement is heading as you look ahead into 2014?
EK: I think the trend continues with the food labeling area. We had about 26 states last year who introduced pieces of legislation to label GMOs. A couple of those did pass in the state legislatures. That was a movement, and that continues. We know now of many states who were again reintroducing labeling legislation, and some are introducing it for the first time. That’s one area that’s enormous.
I personally am extremely interested in the whole animal factories issue, and the fact that we’ve got GMO labeling as a conversation, but there’s so much more that we need to know about the food that we’re eating. As I mentioned before, the whole drugs in meat and the drugs in food area is another very, very significant issue.
The drugs that are being fed to these animals, many of them haven’t undergone human trials, and they’re not licensed to be given to people, but of course, people are eating residues of these drugs when they are consuming different products. We need to know what effects that’s causing in people. The area of “say no to drugs” is something that I’m very interested in.
MF: The scary thing is that sometimes those drugs can actually get into our produce, too, because the manure from those cattle are sometimes used to fertilize fields, and some of those drugs have been found to survive and be spread in that stuff, and then they end up in our vegetables, too.
EK: The whole area of when you talk about E. coli contamination and other contaminants that we find in our fresh produce, that’s generally coming out of some kind of animal agricultural production facility. We need to be very careful about that.
The Center for Food Safety works very much on these issues. One of the things that we’re doing right now is working in Washington State very much on a pollutant ground water issue there. These large animal factories, they have billions of animals in production in the United States for food, and yet there’s not the sewerage system that the human population has that processes waste and really deals with what comes out of the back end of these animals. It’s being put into what they call lagoons – I would call them cesspools. They are sprayed on fields, go into our water supply causing dead zones in the Gulf. We’re looking at the Chesapeake Bay – that’s a large dead zone. There are all different bodies of water, and this is caused from the rise in pollutants from animal production.
We can look at human health – of course, that’s terrible for human health, and environmental health, and water, which is such a sacred thing to life as well. We need to make sure that all of the agricultural processes and everything that we do really works to maintain the integrity of our water supply. The intent of animal farming is something to really look at.
BN: Elizabeth, thank you. We’re sadly at an end of our time together today, but the best thing I can say about this whole conversation is, we are very fortunate that there is an organization such as Center for Food Safety that is doing diligence in this wide area of interest for all of us.
Folks can find you at www.centerforfoodsafety.org. You have a great website. They can follow your work also at True Food Network. Get alerts, get updated, get educated. You can also donate to Center for Food Safety, and we encourage people to think about it.
Once again, thank you, Elizabeth, for joining us today.
EK: Thank you so much.