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The Next Steps for the Local Food Movement: GMO Labeling & Linking Together Sustainable Food Systems

In the wake of the recent decision by Boulder County Commissioners to allow genetically modified (GMO) corn and sugar beets on public lands, there is disappointment and frustration. But there is also optimism and hope.

“(The decision) is disappointing, because everything we believe in is counter to what biotech and agribusiness believes in,” says Doug Radi, VP of Marketing at Rudi’s Organic Bakery and chair of Naturally Boulder. “But the brighter piece that came out it was looking to more local and sustainable food and food chains.”

Radi joined a number of influential local food luminaries a few weeks ago at a Ziggy Marley fundraiser in Boulder to support GMO Free Boulder. And even though many of the natural food proponents realistically think the banning of GMOs is still some years away, they’re very positive on the direction the local food movement is heading.

“The opportunities are enormous,” says Boulder-based Robyn O’Brien, author of the Unhealthy Truth and founder of AllergyKids Foundation. “Wind and solar, sustainable agriculture; so many talented people from so many different backgrounds. How can we build a better model here?”

Well, one way is to push for GMO labeling. O’Brien is working with Robert Kenner, director of Food Inc., on the Just Label It campaign. Numerous ballot initiatives are popping up around the country calling for labeling, and Boulder is working toward something as well. Boulder County Commissioner Will Toor said he is in favor of GMO labeling, along with 93% the country, according to the Just Label It website. And all of the companies in the local organic and natural space of course back it.

“As Rudi’s and as an industry, we’re 100% in support of labeling,” Radi says. In addition to GMO labeling, he thinks there are great opportunities for connecting the dots in our local food system.

“We have an outlet for all kinds of great things that can be grown on public lands, but we haven’t linked it up yet,” Radi explains. “How do we become a more locally sourced and sustainable food system? It’s a huge opening for us to walk through.”

Radi says that Rudi’s buys a lot of grains that can be grown on local lands, but it’s just not happening yet, emphasizing the word “yet.” “But I’m incredibly bullish on closing this virtuous food loop; I think the door is wide open for us to do that for the first time ever.”

O’Brien echoes that sentiment and positivity. She sees it as not only the right thing to do for our environment, but also for our health, and specifically that of our children. Her youngest, Tory, had a severe allergic reaction to eggs when she was a baby. O’Brien had never thought about food as being dangerous, but the fact that something as innocuous as eggs could hurt her child started an awakening that continues to this day.

“This generation of children is so sick,” she says sadly. “What are we doing? How have we become so food illiterate?”

A former financial analyst, she dove into the numbers, and what she found was truly staggering. Not to mention alarming.

For example, according to Kenneth A. Bock, MD, FAAFP, FACN, CNS, 30 million children — more than one-third of all kids — are affected by either autism, ADHD, asthma, or allergies. In the United States, one in every 150 children is dealing with autism, a 1,500% increase over the past two decades. The CDC says that one out of every three Caucasian children born in the year 2000 is expected to develop diabetes in their lifetime, with the number increasing to one out of every two for Hispanic or African American children.

This is absolutely insane, and it’s not happening in a vacuum. “I think what we’re seeing, all of these issues we’re addressing, are symptoms in a broken food system,” says O’Brien. “Restore the food system and you restore the health of our families.”

It’s a quiet epidemic that has gone largely unnoticed for years in this country, but that’s really starting to change, O’Brien says. People are waking up and taking notice and both GMO labeling and local, sustainable food systems are very real, positive steps in the right direction, but there is more that needs to be done.

“We need all hands on deck,” she says. “We invite you to be part of the solution.”

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