My daughter, Ceara, and I were asked by Organic Valley to participate in a “fly-in” the week of February 9th to talk to Senators and House Representatives about GMO labeling and the current bill being introduced in Congress. The “DARK Act” (also known as the Deny Americans the Right to Know act) calls for no labeling of GMO products or ingredients and is against state’s rights to hold elections on whether or not to label GMO’s or GE ingredients on food labels.
We began our meetings that Tuesday morning at the office of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Just Label It. They held mock sessions to help us farmers learn the ropes of talking to our legislators. There were four farmers from Organic Valley – one produce farmer from New Hampshire, several produce farmers from North Carolina and one from New York. At noon we headed to Capital Hill to begin our actual discussions. My group was led by Mike, an EWG staff member, and Adam, the Government Relations staff member from Organic Valley.
Ceara and I began by meeting with Senator Mark Kirk, R-IL. We spent about half an hour to 45 minutes in each office, talking about organic farming and why we feel GMO labeling is important to us as consumers and farmers. I spoke from the viewpoint of a mother concerned about the health of my children. I want our food to be grown in the healthiest way possible, and the chemical spraying of GMO crops is not decreasing, it’s actually on the increase. I don’t just trust the FDA to make a decision about my food being healthy – I read, research, and decide for myself. My daughter spoke from when she was on the Gen-O (Generation Organic) tours with Organic Valley and getting all the signatures for Just Label It, and hearing from the younger college age consumers who are concerned about what they eat. We also met with Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-WI, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-MO, Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-IL-8, Rep. Sander Levin, D-MI-9, and Rep. David Price, D-NC-4, all on the first afternoon. That evening we had the opportunity to attend a reception with Sentaor DeFazio from Oregon who has introduced a bill that would require GMO labeling nationally, in opposition to the DARK Act. He was really interesting to hear; his enthusiasm for organics began back in 1987. I spoke to him personally and he asked about our farm and our path to organic farming, and about Organic Valley and I thanked him on behalf of all Organic Valley farmers, for giving us a voice in Congress.
That second day, we started off with our own House Representative, Cheri Bustos, D-IL17. She was excited to speak with farmers from her own district and while talking, we realized that every Organic Valley farmer in Illinois, is in her district. She mentioned several times she would like to visit our farm, which of course, we said we’d love to have her. She also kept saying “You two do not fill the vision of the typical farmer. You are a dynamic mother/daughter team. You should be at colleges and universities giving lectures and you should get a marketing team to market what you have!” I didn’t have the heart to tell her we truthfully just wanted to get back home to our farm and the peace and beauty of where we live! We finished off the day with Rep. Betty McCollum, D-MN-4, Rep. Rick Nolan, D-MN-8, actually met Rep. Mike Quigley, D-IL-5. Most of the people we spoke with were familiar with organics and several recognized our Organic Valley brand.
Washington, DC is a busy place with lots of people, every inch of space taken up with rows of houses, sidewalks, or streets. The people are friendly and it was wonderful to see the government buildings and the historical architecture. Most importantly, we had the opportunity to lend our voices to an important issue. It was a great trip and while we learned so much about how government works, we were extremely glad to get back to the farm! We flew home Wednesday afternoon, drove the 2 1/2 hours home from Chicago and went back to our chores. We went from Capital Hill to calf feeding in one day! Some things never change and we’re thankful for that.