Sticker shock 

A campaign to label genetically engineered produce starts in Tampa.

When Kara Kaufman buys a new purse, she checks to make sure her EpiPen fits inside. At any given moment, she’s got two shots of adrenalin, Benadryl and a steroid prescribed by her doctor. Kaufman has a severe nut allergy, one that causes her to go into Anaphylactic shock if she comes into contact with anything containing nuts.

“I rely on food labels every day,” Kaufman said.

She’s also the field campaign manager for Tampa’s Food and Water Watch “Let Me Decide” campaign.

“We want labels on genetically engineered foods in Florida,” Kaufman said. “In the coming months, a sweet corn that is genetically engineered will hit the shelves for direct consumption. We think it should be labeled.”

Tampa is one of five cities in three states where Food and Water Watch is pushing to get genetically engineered produce labeled. California voters will decide in November whether to require labeling of GMO (genetically modified organisms). Forbes reported that big agriculture companies like Monsanto and DuPont have donated $25 million to an organization fighting against the legislation. But here in Tampa, the campaign only started a few weeks ago.

“We are about one year behind California with our grassroots efforts here,” Brian Griffith of Tampa Bay Organics said. Griffith is working a table at the Gulfport Farmer’s Market for the Tampa Food and Water Watch campaign.

“We’re asking people to call Representative Janet Cruz and encourage her to support legislation labeling GMO’s,” Griffith said.

Danny Bennett is a pastor at Clearview United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg. Bennett works with Sunshine State Power and Light, an interfaith organization that promotes energy conservation and renewable energy sources. He’s working with the campaign to rally the local faith-base on the issue. Bennett has been speaking to his church about the importance of labeling genetically modified foods.

“They’ve been reluctant,” Bennett explained. “But I try and explain it on a biblical basis. With GMO food, we are effectively trying to change life to benefit our cause.”

Biblical explanations aside, there's no solid scientific evidence that GMOs are bad for you. But there have been no long-term studies on their effects, either. Supporters of labeling say they just want to be able to make an informed choice.

Currently there is no state or federal legislation requiring labels for GMOs.

“No one is required to label,” said Kip Curtis, professor of environmental studies at Eckerd College. “You’ve been eating GMOs your whole life.”

Genetically modified soybeans and corn go into other products like bread and cereal. Seeds are spliced with bacteria to produce pesticides from the inside out. But the sweet corn Kaufman is concerned about will be the first genetically modified produce to go directly to the consumer.

Before Curtis came to Eckerd College, he worked as a reporter at a newspaper in Missoula, Mont. A local referendum requiring 24-hour notice before spraying pesticides or fertilizer was on the ballot. The initiative got crushed after the Chemical Manufacturers Association spent $500,000 on attack advertisements.

“The woman told me that they monitor this stuff around the country,” Curtis said. “She said they didn’t want a precedent set, even just for a local ordinance in Missoula because it could impact profits.”

In Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Tallahassee and Tampa, campaigns to get support for legislation requiring labeling of GMOs are underway. But Curtis says they’ve got quite a fight ahead of them.

“We’re a big agro state in Florida,” Curtis said. “No one will give up the profit they make in order to look out for human health.”

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