At their annual meeting and food tasting this Sunday, March 3, Slow Food Northern New Jersey, will focus attention on the issue of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in our food supply. The event, called Farms, Food and Community, will be held in Maplewood, at the DeHart Community Center, and feature keynote speaker Michael Hansen, a noted expert on the issue.
According to Slow Food, GMOs have become common in our food supply — and even the most meticulous shoppers can’t avoid them simply by shopping at organic grocery stores.
“Everyone should be aware of this problem in our food supply,” Slow Foods NNJ Steering Committee member Marie DeLuca advises, and adds, “There are steps that we all can take to protect ourselves and our families from the potential health problems they cause.”
A GMO is an organism whose genetic material has been changed via genetic engineering; these could include anything from micro-organisms such as bacteria, yeast and plants, up to fish and mammals for human consumption. There is controversy currently surrounding both the ethics of GMO use in human foods, as well as whether growers and manufacturers should be made to clearly and fully label foods that contain GMOs.
Tickets for Sunday’s event can be purchased in advance online or at the door (though the organization would appreciate pre-registration so enough food can be prepared for all).
Activities get under way at 1:00 with a Local Foods Tasting & Social Hour, opening remarks, and information about Slow Food NNJ’s school garden program and the 2013 School Garden Grants Announcement. The organization has been working with 14 School Garden Partnerships since 2008. Teacher Lisa Schustak from Redwood Elementary in West Orange will discuss the impact of their schools’ organic vegetable gardens on students and communities.
Michael Hansen, a GMO expert from Consumer Union, will describe what genetic engineering is, the lack of required safety testing and why food consumers should be concerned. He will review studies linking GE foods to potential adverse health reactions (allergies, immune system effects, damage to various organs, etc.) and environmental impacts (e.g. increased pesticide use). He’ll also discuss what GE foods are currently on the market, or soon will be, why GE foods should be labeled, and how you could avoid them.
To round out the day, Matthew Smith, of Food & Water Watch, will highlight the proposed legislation to require labeling of GE foods that is currently before the New Jersey Senate and Assembly Health Committees for review.
Labeling is a major concern for many consumer advocacy groups nationwide, as states are individually empowered to enact labeling legislation — or not. And major food suppliers are often lined up against such measures, including a New Jersey consortium which last week said it would “vigorously oppose” any state ordered labeling law. Globally, more than 50 countries require that foods imported from the U.S. which contain genetically engineered ingredients must be labeled.
Pam Tonucci, of Maplewood, Slow Food NNJ Treasurer, emphasized that GMOs are notoriously well-integrated into the food chain. Corn, for example, is usually a genetically modified crop, which works its way into the ingredients for thousands of prepared food products.
Naturally, at their Sunday tasting, Slow Food NNJ will present a non-GMO menu, prepared by members and including deviled eggs using eggs from a Branchville farm, locally baked bread, grain salads, and other tasty bites that contain no known GMO ingredients.
“We want to educate people because the problem is we don’t really know the cumulative long terms effects yet of what GMOs may cause,” Tonucci notes, and adds that the film Genetic Roulette, which her group recently screened, is a good way for people to learn more about the issue. You can also visit Slow Food USA.