Editor’s note: During the DNC, Lawyers Weekly staff writer David Donovan is talking to people who have come to Charlotte to advocate for issues that don’t often get a lot of national attention.
My first interview was with North Carolina delegate Vani Hari, the author of the organic food blog FoodBabe.
Hari said the whole reason she became a delegate was so she could lobby against the increasing prevalence of genetically modified food (GMOs)—agricultural crops that have had their DNA changed by genetic engineering techniques. Opponents of GMOs believe those foods may have serious health risks that are not yet fully understood. Many countries require special labels for food that has been genetically modified, but the United States does not.
“I’m trying to talk to as many people about it as possible,” Hari said. “When people ask me why I’m here at the convention, most of the delegates say they’re here to party and have fun and hang out, but I tell every single person that I talk to why I’m here.”
Most of those delegates will spend the night of November 6 waiting for presidential election results, but not Hari. For her, the main event will be a ballot initiative in California that most people here have probably never heard of. The state’s Proposition 37 aims to make California the first state in the nation to require that all GMOs be labeled as such. I asked Hari, a staunch Obama partisan, if that outcome was more important to her than the outcome of the presidential race.
“I would get sick to my stomach if Mitt Romney became president. But I’d also get sick to my stomach—perhaps literally—if Prop 37 doesn’t pass. So it’s a tough call. It’s a really tough call,” she said.
But even if Prop 37 carries the voters, it may not survive the lawsuits by agribusinesses that would surely follow. In June the U.S. Senate rejected, 26-73, a move that would have explicitly given states permission to require labels on GMOs. Democrats were split on the bill, with all the senators from the heavily agricultural Midwestern states opposed. Both of North Carolina’s senators opposed the amendment.
Hari believes that being a delegate will give her greater access to push senators on this issue than she can get from using social media. After the vote, she tweeted to Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) to ask why Hagan voted against the amendment. Hari said she did not receive a response.
“Now I’m going to have the opportunity to talk to her face-to-face as part of the delegation, and I’m going to ask her why she voted against it, and does she understand the consequences,” Hari said. “I think in North Carolina, because we’re not such a huge corn state, I think maybe I can have some influence on Sen. Hagan.”
Hari said she plans to lobby delegates from all over, and “can’t wait” to talk to farm-state delegates.
Not having an Iowa delegate handy, I role-played one for her, and pushed her on the major arguments from her opponents. Advocates of GMOs say that numerous studies have shown them to be as safe as traditional crops, which have been modified by man-made selective breeding for thousands of years, and that genetic engineering can help develop drought-resistant crops, which may become more important because of global climate change.
“That kind of modifying has been natural selection. This is man-made. The fact that they’re injecting (pesticides) inside the corn in a laboratory is a totally different situation,” Hari said. “Humans were evolved to eat the food on the land as it evolved and now what’s happening is that our food is evolving faster than we’re evolving.”
Hari said the major groups that lobby for GMO labeling don’t have a presence at the convention, and she feels like she’s the only one at the DNC talking about the issue. She said that in addition to her lobbying of other delegates, she would like to do some visible protesting in Charlotte.
“I would like to go to [shows on MSNBC] and hold up a sign: ‘Dear Mr. President, Label GMOs.’ Because no one’s holding up a sign for that right now. During the protests [Sunday], I didn’t see single food protester. They’re all against Wall Street or something else.”
Full Coverage: 2012 DNC: Convention News, Legal Angle
The Democratic National Convention in Charlotte obviously is a political event, but legal issues underlie almost everything related to it – from the lawyers who craft the platform inside the Time Warner Arena, for instance, to those who defend the protesters outside. Follow us as we chronicle the legal aspects of Charlotte’s star turn on the national political stage. Full coverage.