Robert Kenner Says: Just Label It

Chances are if you're reading Food Republic, you've heard of Robert Kenner, Oscar-nominated writer, director and producer of Food, Inc. Little did I know, fresh out of college, that Kenner would prove to be an invaluable resource in my decision not to enroll in secretary school and write about food instead. My first published piece was a review of Food, Inc. for Edible Ojai, the original Edible publication. I was so engaged by the film and Kenner's admirable patience with a noob that I kept him on the phone for an hour and a half instead of "20 minutes, maximum." When the interview finally came to a close (to his relief, I'm sure), I felt really good about my career path. Heartwarming, right?

I reached out to Kenner again last week for the scoop on his new video, "Labels Matter" before it sells half a million DVDs (even though it's not a film). A call to action for's Just Label It campaign, "Labels Matter" urges the public to support FixFood's petition supporting government labeling of genetically engineered foods. Cause...we're pretty behind the times. Check out the clip below:

Are you onboard? Sign the full-on legal petition and be one of the million people who help get the right labels on the food we're all eating. Got questions? Check out my Q&A with Kenner, which did not take an hour and a half on the phone (but easily could have).

Which country currently labeling GMOs surprised you most by beating us to it?

The fact that China, which has had food scares involving melamine-tainted baby milk and rice fortified with heavy metals, has GE foods labeled before the U.S. is the greatest surprise by far. Who would have thought that Chinese citizens would have the right to know whether their food is genetically engineered before US citizens?

How many people so far have left comments on Just Label It in support of the petition?

In just four months, more than half a million comments to the FDA petition have been generated. At the Just Label It website it just takes one click to comment electronically.

Are you experiencing any negative feedback?

No. In fact, it's surprising how much agreement there is. While people join Just Label It for diverse reasons related to health and safety, the environment or their religious beliefs, we all share the belief in our right to know.

I know Stonyfield Farms President/CEO Gary Hirshberg is a co-founder of JLI and played a vital role in Food, Inc. — how did he approach you to direct and produce this video?

It was very synchronistic. Gary and I were speaking about FixFood — my new social media venture to activate Americans to change our food system — and he told me about his work on Just Label It. Since we both were working on genetically engineered foods, we decided to combine our efforts. This video is the result of our teamwork.

Do you typically refer to these products as GE or GMO? Which is more politically correct?

I think it's helpful to use the terms that most people understand broadly. GE, or genetically engineered, is, in some ways, more accurate. These foods are being engineered in a dramatically new way, not just "modified." However, GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, is commonly used, especially in social media like Twitter.

In your opinion, is it likely that labeling would become mandatory without citizen involvement?

Americans want to know what's in their food. It's a basic human right — polls consistently show this to be the case. Without citizen engagement, we would have the status quo. It's up to us to tell our government we want to know what's in our food.

How would the labeling of GMOs affect independent farmers?

If anything, it may open up more options. Some may choose non-GE foods, which would open up more opportunity for those who want to grow non-GE foods, but don't feel there is a market. It's getting harder and harder for farmers to grow non-GE foods. The farmers in Food, Inc. were having a hard time sourcing non-GE seeds.

What effects has labeling had on the countries currently implementing it?

Fifty countries around the word, including all of Europe, Japan, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, Russia and even China, today either ban or require some form of genetically engineered food labeling. This enables consumers to have the information they need to make informed decisions about the food they eat and feed their families.

You can add your voice, join in asking the FDA to label GE foods at

More on genetically engineered foods from Food Republic: