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Natural Awakenings South Jersey

The Power of ONE: Meet Barbara Tomas

Nov 30, 2014 05:58PM ● By Lauressa Nelson

When Barbara Thomas interprets the meaning of “the power of one,” she avoids taking any individual credit for the achievements of GMO Free NJ, which she co-founded with Kathleen McKenna, both Collingswood residents. Instead, Thomas quotes John Lennon: “The dream you dream alone is only a dream, the dream you dream together is reality;” and talks about the power of a unified, collective one. “We are standing on the shoulders of all who have worked before us to spread the word,” says Thomas. “As so many activists work on a variety of issues, from climate change solutions to food and water justice to indigenous rights, our paths intersect because we are united by facing the same obstacle: the control and power by the very rich few over the resources that should be available to us all. We are working to reclaim sovereignty over the basic needs of every human being.”

The shiatsu therapist/teacher was first introduced to the environmental movement by reading Rachel Carson’s seminal book Silent Spring, which planted the seed of a truly sustainable future and started the environmental movement. Thomas began studying genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the concept of food sovereignty by following the work of Indian environmental activist and author Vandana Shiva, Ph.D.; Don Huber, Ph.D., a plant pathologist; research scientist Stephanie Seneff, Ph.D.; and non-GMO consumer advocate and author Jeffrey Smith.

However, what first motivated Thomas to take action was reading Smith’s concept of the tipping point. “He explains that every action we take and every purchasing decision we make contributes to tipping point of consumer rejection of GMOs,” shares Thomas. “My co-founder and I felt that anyone and everyone who takes any positive action, even changing just one regular purchase, has the potential to be the force that causes the tipping point on this issue.”

Several major tenets are set forth by the anti-GMO movement. The most important of these is the right to know about and choose our food, says Thomas. “This is a global movement to reclaim our food choice freedom,” she affirms. “All people should have access to the information they need to make an educated decision; GMO ingredients should be labeled as such, so that people can see what the ingredients are before making their choice. In the current system, we have neither freedom nor choice. The agricultural system and food supply is being co-opted by a few huge multi-national chemical companies.”

Thomas also emphasizes food fairness in the marketplace: “I’d like to see the market equilibrate to achieve a fair distribution of healthy, organic foods. That would mean eliminating subsidies for GMO crops, which would make organic foods less expensive.”

About three years ago, Thomas and McKenna formed GMO Free NJ, a nonprofit that seeks to create inspiration and awareness of the issues pertaining to genetically engineered crops and to take action leading to true sustainability and food sovereignty. The group hosts monthly meetings, as well as film screenings, speakers and discussion groups. It maintains a public presence for GMO issues through social media, hosting information tables at events, participating in political activities and supporting other states in similar efforts. Thomas’s background as a theater major is evident in the style of activism embraced by GMO Free NJ, seen in its You- Tube video called The GMO Frankenfood Rag. “We come together in a spirit of joy, not drudgery,” Thomas asserts. “If it’s not fun, we’re not going to do it.”

Regarding the current status of GMO labeling laws, Thomas says: “The local level is where the meaningful change is happening. Connecticut, Maine andVermont have passed labeling bills; Humboldt County, California, and Maui County, Hawaii, have just joined six other U.S. counties by passing laws to ban the growing of GMOs (although Maui County is currently being challenged by Monsanto Co. and Dow Chemical Co.). Currently, a labeling bill for New Jersey has passed through an Assembly Committee. It needs to go on to the full Assembly and through both a committee and full Senate floor before it will make it to the Governor’s desk. We are facing obstacles in the Legislature, but when enough lawmakers hear from enough of their constituents, they will see the urgency for labeling. Citizens need to call their legislators. GMO Free NJ has a helpful link at GmoFreeNJ.com/gmolabelnj/.”

However, GMO Free NJ maintains that it is vital not to limit our activism to state borders. “Vermont is being sued by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which is heavily funded by Monsanto,” notes Thomas. “At the national level, there is a bill that would preempt any state labeling law and make GMO labeling voluntary. Should it pass, the bill would undermine everything we’ve been working toward. We are witnessing the corporatization of government agencies, which turn over our food system to huge multinational corporations that profit from our ignorance.”

Optimistic activism keeps Thomas going. “We are facing massive opponent, but over time, the people will prevail,” Thomas declares. “It is a David and Goliath situation, but there are many Davids. Everyone can participate in a positive way.”

Through “The Power of One,” Natural Awakenings of South New Jersey highlights South Jersey’s the often unsung community heroes that open a doorway for others to join in a vision of hope and powerful group energy in service. Nominate others to be featured by emailing suggestions to [email protected].

Lauressa Nelson is a freelance writer and contributing editor for Natural Awakenings Publishing Corporation. 

Tips for Avoiding GMO Food

It is essential to support the local economy and to rebuild the local food shed in order to achieve food sovereignty. Here are some tips to help do that.

• Start with the most local option available: growing our own food. Know local farmers, what crops they grow and by what methods. Support especially those that grow using organic methods.

• Buy USDA Buy certified organic products because they aren’t allowed to intentionally contain genetically engineered ingredients.

• Purchase products that bear the Non-GMO Project Verified seal.

• Unless they are labeled organic or Non-GMO Project Verified, avoid products derived from the ten genetically engineered crops: soy, corn, cottonseed, canola, sugar beets, papaya from China or Hawaii, zucchini, yellow crooknecked squash, alfalfa (fed to livestock), and potatoes (just recently approved).

• To avoid GMO-fed animals products—such as dairy, eggs, meat and farmed fish—choose organic or Non-GMO Project Verified.

• Change your oil. If the ingredients label lists soy, corn, cottonseed, canola or vegetable oil and isn’t certified organic or Non-GMO Project Verified, it is probably GMO.

• Most sugar in food products comes from GMO sugar beets; buy organic, Non-GMO Project Verified or pure sugar cane.

• Read labels for hidden ingredients.

• Avoid processed foods unless organic or Non-GMO Project Verified.

• Use a non-GMO shopping guide available as a free download at NonGMOShoppingGuide.com.

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