Organic farmer and biologist Ed Stockman is one of a network of activists using Earth Day on Monday to call attention to the effects of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on the environment, animal life and humans.
He and his wife, Chris, who live in Plainfield, are founders of Massachusetts Right to Know GMOs (marighttoknow.com), a statewide network of citizens lobbying the legislature for mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods in the commonwealth.
These are foods from organisms -- mostly plants, but some fish, too, particularly salmon -- that have had their DNA altered to produce results such as faster growth, resistance to certain disease or extra nutrients.
While producers say genetically modified crops pose no greater risk to human health than conventionally grown produce, critics have raised safety issues and ecological concerns.
"Massachusetts Right to Know GMO: That's what I work five to six hours a day on," Stockman said. "We Americans think we have so many freedoms compared to other countries. But when it comes to food, we do not have freedom of informed choice."
His organization is joining with other regional groups, businesses and individuals to sponsor events Sunday, Monday (Earth Day) and Tuesday to bring genetic engineering issues to a wider audience.
The film, "Genetic Roulette" by food activist Jeffrey M. Smith, will have two free screenings: Sunday morning at The Moviehouse in Millerton, N.Y., and Tuesday evening at Monument Mountain High School in Great Barrington.
The Sunday Millerton screening will be followed by a question-and-answer session with local organic farmers of Chubby Bunny Farms, McEnroe Organic Farm and Moon in the Pond Farm. The Berkshire-Litchfield Environmental Council, Housatonic Valley Association, North East Community Center, Orion Magazine and Scientific Alliance for Education (S.A.F.E.) are sponsors.
The Tuesday screening at Monument Mountain will be followed by a discussion with Stockman. It is hosted by the Berkshire Co-op Market, Citizen's Advocacy For All and Massachusetts Right to Know GMOs.
"The film is an eye-opener. People have a lot questions when they see it," Stockman said.
The movie, which came out last year, details the ways GMOs have damaged and are continuing to damage people's health and the Earth itself, he said.
"There are only two industrial nations that do not require labeling of GMOs: the United States and Canada," he said. "When we discuss this after the movie people are shocked by that."
Stockman said 62 nations have either banned or require labeling of foods made with genetically modified ingredients. He said that American manufacturers use non-GM corn in cornflakes they sell to European Market countries
"One of the big reasons corporate food producers resist GMO labeling and fight tooth and nail not to have labeling in this country is that people here might not want to buy their corn flakes if they knew they were made from genetically engineered corn."
"These foods are not cheaper. They don't last longer. They don't taste better and, in some cases, they taste worse," he said.
Janet Bradley, a retired earth and environmental sciences high school teacher, who runs an organic farm with her husband in Windsor, has organized an Earth Day anti-GMOs rally on Park Square in Pittsfield on Monday afternoon to raise awareness about the presence and issues around GMOs in food and the need for labeling.
She said she was moved to organize the rally because she is so distressed by the secrecy surrounding GMOs.
"I realize that so many people have no idea of what goes on with genetically modified food. We are being led down such a wrong road," Bradley said. The rally has the support of Massachusetts Right to Know GMOs, Berkshire Co-op Market and Berkshire Organics.
Stockman said "There are five bills being reviewed by committees in the Massachusetts Legislature, right now, concerned with GMOs. We have 20-some representatives and senators involved as sponsors of GMO-labeling bills."
He said Massachusetts is not alone. People in 37 states and Canada have formed a coalition to pass laws requiring mandatory labeling of GMOs ever since California's Proposition 37 to do just that was closely defeated last fall.
"Of these states, 20 now have bills before their legislatures to require labeling of GMOs. We have about five states that will go to vote this year but Massachusetts is not ready. Organization takes a long time."
Bradley said, "I think Massachusetts is the state that can get these foods labeled. We're a concentrated population, we're intelligent and we're progressive. I really think were gonna do it."
Anti-GMO events set for Earth Day
Sunday: Free film, "Genetic Roulette," at The Moviehouse in Millerton, N.Y., at 11 a.m., followed by a question-and-answer session with local organic farmers and a tour of McEnroe Farm at 2:30 p.m. Visit the Berkshire Co-op website, www.berkshire.coop.org for more details.
Monday: Earth Day anti-GMO rally on Park Square in Pittsfield noon to 6 p.m.
Tuesday: Free film "Genetic Roulette" at Monument Mountain High School at 7 p.m. Also Saturday, May 25, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.