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TEDxManhattan Speaker Profile: Gary Hirshberg

gary

Gary Hirshberg

As TEDxManhattan approaches, we’ve asked this year’s speakers to introduce themselves by answering a few questions.  Today we feature Gary Hirshberg, Chairman of Stonyfield Farm, the world’s leading organic yogurt producer.

1) What’s the topic you’ll be speaking about?

The case for mandatory federal labelling of genetically engineered foods.

2) Why do you feel this is important? 

The U.S. is alone among 61 countries including all of our major trading partners, the entire EU, Japan, Russia and even China in not mandating labelling of these new patented crops and ingredients. And yet in the twenty years since the FDA, under pressure from the chemical companies who own these patents, adopted voluntary guidelines that preclude such mandatory labelling, numerous health, economic and ecologic concerns have arisen from their increased usage. Mandatory labelling is the only means of enabling consumers to know whether they are purchasing and using these ingredients and to choose whether or not they wish to support and consume these products.  Polls show that over 91% of consumers, crossing all demographic and partisan lines, want to know.

3) Are there other projects you’re also passionate about right now? 

Over the 30 years of growing my business from a humble start-up, I have experienced first-hand the economic and ecologic benefits of organic food production for all stakeholders.  Since stepping down as CEO of my company I have been actively involved in educating large numbers of citizens about these benefits and have been deeply engaged in trying to create a level playing field for governmental support of organic production.

4) Which other TEDxManhattan speakers are you excited about hearing?

Ann Cooper, Anna Lappé, Peter Lehner

5) Where can more information about your project be found?

JustLabelIt.org and Stonyfield.com

Gary Hirshberg is Chairman of Stonyfield Farm, the world’s leading organic yogurt producer, and Managing Director of Stonyfield Europe, with organic brands in Ireland, and France. Gary serves on several corporate and nonprofit boards including Applegate Farms, Honest Tea, Peak Organic Brewing, Late July, The Full Yield, SweetGreen, RAMp Sports, Glenisk, the Danone Communities Fund and the Danone Livelihoods Fund. He is the Chairman, CEO and Co-founder of Chelsea’s Table Cafés, a natural and organic fast casual restaurant firm. In 2011, President Obama appointed Gary to serve on the Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations. He is a Co-Chair of AGree, an agricultural policy initiative formed by the Ford, Gates, Kellogg, Rockefeller, Walton and other leading foundations. He is Chairman and a founding Partner of Just Label It, We Have the Right to Know, the national campaign to label genetically engineered foods, and is co-author of Label It Now – What You Need to Know About Genetically Engineered Foods. He is the author of Stirring It Up: How to Make Money and Save the World.
Gary has received nine honorary doctorates and numerous awards for corporate and environmental leadership including a 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award by the US EPA.

Previously, he was the Founder of Climate Counts, Director of the Rural Education Center, the small organic farming school from which Stonyfield was spawned and Executive Director of The New Alchemy Institute – a research and education center dedicated to organic farming, aquaculture, and renewable energy. Before that he was a water-pumping windmill specialist and an environmental education director with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. He has also authored books on wind-power and organic gardening.

Genetic Engineering

fieldAs part of the Guide to Good Food series, I’ll be explaining different issues involved with both industrial and sustainable food and farming. Today we’re going to talk about genetic engineering.

A gene is a small section of DNA in the nucleus of a cell that carries specific instructions which determine how a plant or animal grows, develops, looks and lives. Genetic engineering is the process of transferring specific traits, or genes, from one plant or animal to another. The resulting organism is called transgenic or a GMO (genetically modified organism). Seventy percent of processed foods on American grocery shelves have genetically modified ingredients.

This process of transferring genes is different from traditional cross breeding, which can only be done with members of the same species (such as different breeds of cattle). Cross breeding has been done over the centuries to strengthen breeds by focusing on specific traits such as the ability to survive outdoors in cold or produce more offspring. It is done through mating or artificial insemination, not through gene manipulation.

With genetic engineering, genes can be transferred not just across species but from one species to another – that is, among plants and animals that are unable to breed. For example, genes from an animal can be inserted into a plant, as when genes from a flounder were inserted into tomato plants to try to make them resistant to frost. In Taiwan, scientists have successfully inserted jellyfish genes into pigs to make them glow in the dark. (Who knows why.)

There are many concerns about genetically engineered crops and animals, including the fact that inadequate testing has been done to determine the effects on humans and the environment.

GE Crops
According to the Economic Research Service at the USDA, in 2008 over 90 percent of soybeans, more than 55 percent of corn, and over 60 percent of cotton grown in the United States was from genetically engineered (GE) seeds. Most GE crops were created to withstand pesticide or herbicide application, allowing farmers to heavily spray their fields and kill pests, but not the GE plants.

While those in favor of GE crops claim they require less pesticide use, weeds can develop resistance to the pesticides, leading farmers to spray more. This can lead to more pesticide residues on the food you eat. Increased pesticide use also increases profits for the biggest agribusinesses that sell not only GE seed but the pesticides used on them as well. It also increases water and air pollution as well as costs for the farmer.

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