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Cook: 'Right to know' labeling movement successful

Ken Cook, Environmental Working Group

Ken Cook

A campaign to require labeling of food for genetically modified ingredients based on people’s “right to know” what is in their food is succeeding, Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook said Wednesday.

In a speech to the Organic Trade Association, Cook said that public support for the “right to know” is growing.

He said the 1 million-signature petition submitted to the Food and Drug Administration, asking the FDA to reconsider its view that foods do not need to be labeled for GMO ingredients, is only the beginning of the “Just Label It” campaign’s success, and that he believes a labeling initiative will be on the ballot on California this fall.

FDA has not acted on the labeling petition, but Cook said the time will come to ask the Obama administration to urge the FDA, an independent agency, to act.

“At some point we need to ask the administration what counts more — 1 million people or Monsanto. Anybody who counts votes will be with a million people.”

Most organic producers want GMO ingredient labeling, but Cook warned the audience of growers, processors and retailers that the “right to know” campaign is not about organic food.

Many of the people who support “the right to know” buy conventional, even GMO food, he said, but believe they have the right to know what is in their food. The jury is still out on whether GMOs are good or bad, he said, but not on the right to know.

But he said that the interest in GMO labeling is a sign of the success of the organic industry.

“One agriculture is defensive and wants to brag about quantity,” Cook said. “Another is organic, in which [describing ingredients] is a matter of pride, not defensiveness.

Cook noted that a poll taken by the Mellman Group showed that almost as many Republicans as Democrats favor labeling. Some of the movement’s biggest supporters are buyers of cosmetics who want to know what is in the items they put on their bodies, he said.