Know your GMOs: Asheville chef speaks up at Capitol Hill labeling debate

Asheville chef William Dissen, owner and executive chef at The Market Place, met with legislators and presidential chef Sam Kass in support of GMO labeling in early December. Photo courtesy of Dissen

Asheville chef William Dissen, owner and executive chef at The Market Place, championed states’ rights to enforce genetically modified organism (GMO) food labeling during an activist trip to Capitol Hill earlier this December. Dissen and about two dozen other renowned chefs spoke against the DARK Act (or “Denying Americans the Right to Know”), a proposed bill which would preempt G.M.O. labeling regulations nationwide. His group also petitioned in support of a mandatory GMO labeling initiative introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.

Mountain Xpress: Why was your team invited to speak on Capitol Hill regarding G.M.O.s, and what results did you achieve?

Williams Dissen: Chefs from all around the country were invited to Washington to talk to our leaders in the [U.S.] House and Senate about the importance of passing GMO labeling legislation. I was proud to join 26 other chefs in a full day of meetings. As a group, we had 60 meetings with our nation’s leaders, held a staff lunch briefing and hosted a dinner reception with more than 50 members of Congress in attendance. We had a great response from members and staff.

How would the DARK Act affect Western North Carolina consumers?

The DARK Act is dangerous, because it would preempt states like North Carolina from passingGMO labeling laws. The truth is, consumers want to know what’s in their food, and until Congress or the FDA moves on federal GMO labeling, the states will continue to work on labeling laws to provide transparency. Congress should not pass legislation that strips that right from the states.

What about Asheville food systems legislators are interested in propagating?

Locally, our legislators are interested in continuing to push forward with the accessibility of our local food system with the extension of our local tailgate farmers markets, extended SNAP benefits for access to healthy food, and with groups like ASAP’s Growing Minds program and the Rainbow In My Tummy program, we are finding better ways to educate our children about the importance of eating healthy, well-balanced meals.

What does the future of G.M.O. labeling look like?.

In my opinion, states will continue to push forward to demand transparency in labeling, which will cause more states to adopt similar legislation focused on these issues.

Can you elaborate on your trip to the White House to meet the presidential chef?

We met with Sam Kass, the executive director of First Lady, Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative, and the White House chef. We discussed GMO labeling as well as other food system issues that the administration is working on. Sam was very thoughtful in his response, and it was a productive meeting to motivate chefs to take initiative and use our voices as chefs to help make change. It was an unprecedented conversation because we had 26 of our country’s preeminent chefs in to talk to the White House chef about the work we are doing for a better food system.

Click here for more information about chef Dissen’s battle against undeclared GMOs.

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About Kat McReynolds
Kat studied entrepreneurship and music business at the University of Miami and earned her MBA at Appalachian State University. Follow me @katmAVL

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