November Right to Know Champion – Chef Tom Colicchio

This month we got to speak with one of our favorite cooking show stars, Chef Tom Colicchio. His passion for food has turned into a drive for action. He helped found the organization Food Policy Action in 2012 and is dedicated to highlighting the importance of good food policies.

Recently, he has organized over 500 chefs to sign a petition urging Congress to support legislation that would mandate labeling of genetically modified foods. They will be meeting on Capitol Hill next Tuesday, Dec. 2nd to deliver the petition.

Check out our full interview with Chef Colicchio to learn more about his passion for food policy.

Q&A: Right to Know Champion, Tom Colicchio, Food Policy Action Board Member, Advocate and Chef

Q: What made you first become passionate about the issue of genetically engineered food, and advocating for mandatory labeling?

A: My passion around the issue of GMO food arose primarily out of concerns about the environmental impact they have, specifically as it relates to herbicide and pesticide use on soil health. Many of the GMO crops being harvested today are only modified to have increased resistance to these chemicals, oftentimes produced by the same company that sells farmers the GMO seeds.

Q: Do you avoid using GE ingredients in your restaurants?

A: Absolutely. We’re actually in the middle of an analysis about what it would take to go 100% GMO free in all of our restaurants; our hope is that in leading by example we can provide a framework for other members of our industry to incorporate these practices into their daily operations as well.

Q: What role do you think chefs play in the GE labeling and other food debates?

A: Chefs have a unique role – we are business owners, community members, and opinion leaders. Collectively, we have the ability to change the marketplace with our buying power, and purchasing decisions. This is powerful and can help shape the conversation around GMO labeling and other important food issues.

Q: Do you personally try to avoid eating GE foods? How?

A: Yes, I try to avoid GMO food, but this is part of the problem, without labels, how are consumers going to make informed decisions?

For example, a consumer goes to the produce aisle in the supermarket and sees five displays of strawberries. The first is labeled “USDA Organic,” the second “GMO-free,” the third “All Natural,” the fourth “Locally Grown,” and the fifth has no label. Which of the strawberries is genetically modified?

Answer: None. There are no GMO strawberries being commercially grown or sold in the U.S. (or anywhere else) — but most people don’t know this. Nor do they know that USDA organic standards prohibit the use of GMO seeds. Or that in some cases, “GMO-free” is being used as a marketing ploy on products that never contained GMOs under any circumstances.

Or that “All Natural” is the most meaningless term on a package today — appearing on foods with ingredients that only a biochemist can pronounce. Or that “Locally Grown” says nothing about the merits of a food other than that it was grown nearby.

Q: Who do you admire for their leadership on GE labeling?

A: Senator Lisa Murkowski comes to mind immediately for her amendment to the 2014 Agriculture Appropriations bill requiring mandatory labeling of GE salmon. Her willingness to champion transparency for consumers and take a non-partisan approach on this issue is the type of leadership we need more of in Congress.

Q: We know that you’re a founding board member of Food Policy Action, can you tell us more about what the organization and the National Food Policy Scorecard?

A: I started Food Policy Action in 2012 with Ken Cook and a diverse group of food leaders in order to hold legislators accountable for their votes on food and farming. Our goal is to raise the political profile of food issues in Washington, and turn shared values about sustainable food and farming into national priorities through education and publication of the National Food Policy Scorecard. More information can be found here:

Q: What resources would you recommend for others hoping to learn more about GMOs?

A: The National Food Policy Scorecard is a great tool for the public to learn how their elected officials are voting on a full range of food policy issues, including GMOs.


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