By Joanna Lidback: Barton, Vermont
The first clue that Gwyneth Paltrow didn’t know what she was talking about on Capitol Hill last week came with the first words she spoke: “I’m here as a mother.”
Apparently the actress thinks that any mom can show up in Washington, D.C. and hold a press conference that attracts lawmakers and the media.
Memo to Paltrow: The rest of us moms don’t have that celebrity power. We haven’t won Oscar awards, assumed glamorous roles in the “Iron Man” movies, or married (let alone divorced) rock stars.
But Paltrow has done all of these things, so of course everyone needs to know what she thinks about pending legislation on food-packaging labels. You know, because she’s a regular mom.
Well, I’m a mom and a farmer—so I like to think that I know a little bit about raising kids, crops, and dairy cows. And I’m convinced that Paltrow is completely wrong about food.
She has let herself become a tool for special-interest groups that oppose the Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act, which the House passed in July with significant bipartisan support. This sensible bill would prevent states from forcing food producers to put costly and ineffective labels on food that contains genetically modified ingredients.
“I have the right to know what’s in the food that I feed my family,” said Paltrow.
True enough; no one is arguing that you don’t have the “right”, except of course the group she represented on Wednesday. That’s why packages of food already display information about calories, nutrients, and ingredients. Anybody who wants to avoid GM foods enjoys a few good options including organic food, which doesn’t contain GM ingredients and already carries a special label.
Paltrow must know this. “I’m a proponent of organic food,” she said at her press conference.
Yet the movie star wants more. She thinks food produced by modern, conventional farming should bear a warning label.
“The science is still inconclusive about GMOs and there are arguments that they could possibly be harmful,” she said. “At this point, we just don’t know.”
Here’s who disagrees with her: the American Medical Association, the Food and Drug Administration, and the World Health Organization, among others. They’ve declared that GM foods are safe to eat.
Yet their conclusions don’t command the same attention as the claims of a celebrity. As a result, the public is wildly misinformed. Earlier this year, the Pew Research Center found that only 37 percent of adults believe that GM foods are safe to eat. Among scientists connected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the figure is 88 percent.
Paltrow is not only out of touch with science, she’s out of touch with reality.
Earlier this year, she accepted a celebrity chef’s challenge to live on food stamps for a week. She lasted just four days. “My perspective has been forever altered by how difficult it was to eat wholesome, nutritious food on that budget,” she wrote on her blog.
A lot of people mocked her even for trying—but I applaud her attempt.
Unfortunately, she seems to have learned the wrong lesson.
We need to find ways to make food more affordable. Her labeling proposal, however, would make food more expensive. Experts say that labeling would disrupt the entire food-supply chain, causing ordinary families to fork over extra money to pay for the same food that they’re consuming right now—as much as $500 per year.
The people least able to afford the cost of this pointless regulation would suffer the most.
In my area of Vermont, that’s a lot of families. Four out of five children at our local elementary school qualify for free or reduced-price lunches. One out of three children in my county are food insecure – and that number is not improving.
That’s why I was disappointed to see our senator, Patrick Leahy, on stage with Paltrow. Over the years, he has done a lot for farmers like me. On the subject of labeling, though, he let the aura of a celebrity overwhelm his better judgment and I wish he would listen to the other side.
For her part, Paltrow, benefits from the luxury of not having to worry about food budgets. “I would rather die than let my kid eat Cup-a-Soup,” she said on a late-night talk show a few years ago.
She was exaggerating for effect, of course, but let’s remember that this is something no mother ever would say and truly mean. And no mother who does her homework on GM labels would agree with Paltrow’s self-absorbed political agenda.
Joanna Lidback and her husband operate the Farm at Wheeler Mountain, a diversified dairy farm in Vermont. Joanna volunteers as a board member for Truth About Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org).
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