Natural Foods Merchandiser

Activist speaker says retailers essential in GMO fight

Jeremy Rifkin, longtime activist and occasional self-avowed alarmist about the threat science and technology can pose to the ecology and humanity, will speak at the Natural Products Expo East on Friday, Oct. 4 in Washington, D.C.

Rifkin is the author of 15 books, including The Biotech Century (Putnam, 1998), Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture (Dutton, 1993) and Biosphere Politics (Harper San Francisco, 1992). He has lectured at more than 500 universities in 20 countries and is a fellow at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where he lectures to top executives about the effects trends in science and technology will have on the global economy. He has testified before congressional committees and has been a key player in litigation to ensure responsible governmental policies on environmental, scientific and technological issues. The National Journal, a public-policy magazine, named him one of the 150 people in the United States who has the most influence in shaping federal policy.

"Mr. Rifkin is one of those fascinating people—the more you learn about him, the more you're impressed with his range and scope," said Sharon Cook, conference manager, New Hope Natural Media. "He seems to be at the heart of the world's most controversial issues and has made numerous appearances before Congress.

"I think this is an important time for him to join us and address [the natural products industry's] future from his viewpoint. The threads that tie him to our industry are obvious, but I'm also amazed with the insights he brings to national issues. And he does it in a way that's approachable and passionate," Cook said.

Bob Scowcroft, executive director of the Organic Farming Research Foundation in Santa Cruz, Calif., said Rifkin likely will stoke the embers of food politics during his talk. "He's an incredibly dynamic speaker and will engage the crowd and present some remarkable information that has frightening implications. People will be stirred up."

Rifkin said industry retailers need to be more aggressive in championing a shift to natural and organic foods. Sustainable quality in the field helps maintain food quality for the consumer. People, he said, need to have a daily relationship with their food, and retailers need to be the stewards of that relationship.

"What I want to say to retailers is, 'We're counting on you. Lead the charge.'" Rifkin said. "Move from a mission statement to activism. Help—be out there in front."

Rifkin said the choice to eat natural and organic foods is an attempt to reconnect with the cultural aspects of those choices. "Food choices tend to tell our story. If you abuse your fellow creatures and consume them in the food chain, it's no surprise it comes back to haunt us in terms of disease."

One of his primary crusades is against genetically modified organisms. Rifkin said retailers have to lead, provide resources and use their stores as centers for activism to promote anti-GM crop production.

"One of the big things we're fighting now is GMO contamination," he said. "If not, there may be no organic food movement in 10 years. If we continue to allow GM foods, the cross-pollination could contaminate everything.

"Fifteen years ago when I said there would be cross-contamination, the industry said I was an alarmist. Then about two years ago, they put out a front page in The New York Times that said it's too late." In short, Rifkin said, "The Times reported, everything is contaminated; live with it."

Anyone who hasn't already begun to consider the far-reaching implications of GMO technology "will have their eyes opened" by Rifkin's talk, said Craig Winters, executive director of the Campaign to Label Genetically Engineered Foods in Seattle. "Jeremy was on top of [genetic modification] before anybody else."

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 9/p. 10

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