The Call for Food Democracy: The Right2Know March

Photo Courtesy of Right2Know

“The right to know what we eat is at the heart of food democracy” – Dr. Vandana Shiva

Dr. Shiva’s words encapsulate the core sentiment of the current American GMO labelling campaign. The last few weeks have seen a marked increase in the amount of public discourse and protest surrounding the politics of GMO labelling policy, manifesting most dramatically in the Right2Know March, which began in New York and ended in Washington at the gates of the White House on October 16th 2011.  Right2Know organizers purported the slogan “Just Label It!” demanding that the United States government create mandatory GMO labelling laws, much like those seen throughout the European Union and numerous Asian countries. The group also asks for the US government to get biotechnology corporations, like industry leader, Monsanto, in check, by allowing pre-emptive legal action by organic farmers to protect themselves against seed patenting.

The Right2Know March was the climax of numerous smaller scale protests throughout the United States over the last few months, with several occurring in Texas, California, and several other states. These protests have also been accompanied by over 68,000 letters to congress asking for mandatory GMO labelling laws.

These protests highlight the emergence of a new facet of democratic action, food democracy. People are now asserting that they should have the right to know exactly what they feed themselves and their families, and that this decision should be made by them alone and not left exclusively to government officials.  Transparency and consumer sovereignty are at the core of this movement, rather than outlandish conspiracy theories concerning biotechnology crony capitalist behaviour.

What’s interesting about these protests is that numerous corporate actors are lending their support to the movement. The Non-GMO Project, which is an industry group that provides the highest level of consistent Non-GMO certification on a voluntary basis, and all of its participants, namely food companies like Amy’s Kitchen, Nature’s Path, and numerous others, have been actively supportive in supplying food and other comforts for marchers, to publicizing the protests on their corporate blogs and social media spaces.

The presence of corporate actors in this campaign highlights how a mandatory labelling policy is not incompatible with market success, and that the support for food transparency spans beyond the hyperbolic confines of the leftist hippie and expands into the marketplace.

In essence, the Right2Know movement asks the American administration to stay true to President Obama’s 2007 promise that, upon entering Presidential office, he would “let folks know if their food is genetically modified, because Americans deserve to know what their buying”. Whether or not this movement will translate into the Canadian political sphere remains to be seen, as Canadians have yet to assert their right to know.