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Chefs look to Congress in national GMO labeling fight

Even as Oregon's Nov. 4 ballot measure to mandate labeling of genetically modified foods is getting a recount, Portland chefs are looking nationally.

Cathy Whims, chef/owner of Nostrana, is one of more than 700 well-known chefs across the nation who signed a petition urging Congress to advance legislation sponsored by U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

"With Oregon's Measure 92 so close, it's very important for Oregonians to stand together and tell our nation how important it is for mandatory GMO labeling," Whims told the Tribune this week. "It simply is our right to know, just as we are able to make decisions based on calorie content, fat content, allergens and transfats. My customers, their families, and my 100 employees demand transparency. It is our right to know."

DeFazio and Boxer's letter encourages President Obama to fulfill his 2007 pledge to require the Food and Drug Administration adopt a national mandatory GMO labeling system.

Businesses and organizations that have signed on include Oregon Tilth, Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, Amy’s Kitchen, Annie’s Homegrown Inc., Applegate, Stonyfield Farm, Nature’s Path Foods, the Center for Food Safety, Just Label It and Environmental Working Group.

In April 2013, DeFazio and Boxer introduced the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, legislation that would require the FDA to clearly label genetically engineered foods. DeFazio’s house bill has 50 co-sponsors.

“It’s time the FDA’s policies reflect 21st century food technologies," DeFazio said in a statement. "After all, 20 years ago they didn’t have corn that could produce its own insecticide. Plain and simple, this is about consumer rights."

Whims was the only Portland chef to sign the petition delivered this week.

The petition states, in part: “As chefs, we know that choosing the right ingredients is an absolutely critical part of cooking. But when it comes to whether our ingredients contain genetically modified organisms, we're in the dark. It’s time for Congress to move us forward, not backward, when it comes to our right to know what’s in our food.”

Labeling opponents spent more than $36 million to fight GMO ballot initiatives in Oregon and Colorado this year.

Measure 92 in Oregon garnered less than 1,000 more "no" votes than "yes" votes, prompting a mandatory recount. Counties are due to submit their final numbers to the Oregon secretary of state's office by Dec. 12.

On Twitter @jenmomanderson.