PHILADELPHIA, July 25, 2016 – A leading critic of federal food and agriculture policy believes the GMO disclosure bill passed by Congress this month is a fair compromise that is likely to have little impact on consumer food choice.

Tom Colicchio, co-founder of Food Policy Action and a judge on the Bravo series Top Chef, says he thinks his fellow activists were mistaken in opposing the bill, which would allow companies to disclose biotech ingredients through digital, QR codes as an option to on-package text.

“I think a good compromise was struck, I really do. … Two or three years ago, there’s no way this could have happened. It would have been shot down,” Colicchio said during an interview with Agri-Pulse in Philadelphia, where the Democratic National Convention is being held this week.

Colicchio was helping man a tent sponsored by Plate of the Union, a coalition of activist groups that includes Food Policy Action. Plate of the Union hosted a barbecue last week near the site of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. For the Philadelphia event, local chefs were serving up such items as vegetable kabobs, edamame hummus on crackers and pork belly wraps made with radicchio, green papaya and Espelette pepper vinaigrette.

Food Policy Action opposed the biotech legislation, saying that it “falls short of a mandatory on-pack national disclosure standard.” Other groups such as the Center for Food Safety, Consumers Union, Food and Water Watch, Food Democracy Now! also oppose the bill.

But Colicchio said, “It was a big mistake for some of these anti-GMO folks to just completely roll over and say we got killed here … Right now everything is so politicized that if you don’t get 100 percent of what you’re after it’s failure.”

The bill is intended to shut down Vermont’s GMO labeling law that took effect July 1, but Colicchio says he expects many companies, including Campbell Soup, to continue on-package labeling even when Vermont’s requirement is officially lifted.

“I don’t think it’s going to change (consumer) choice,” said Colicchio. 

Photo of chefs Tom Colicchio, Nicholas Elmi and Kevin Sbraga at the Plate of the Union event prior to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia

Do you think for a second that the guy who’s eating his bag of Doritos watching Sunday football is going to look down and say, ‘There’s a label here, I can’t eat this anymore’? No way that’s going to happen.

“Are there some moms who are going to look at this and say, ‘I don’t know if I want to do this?’ Possibly, but I don’t see big choices and big changes.”

The bill, which passed the House and Senate by large bipartisan majorities, will become law as soon as President Obama signs it. The House formally sent it to the White House on July 19, according to Speaker Paul Ryan’s staff, but the White House hasn’t said when it will be signed.

Nutrition activists will lose an advocate when first lady Michelle Obama leaves the White House, but Colicchio said he expects her to continue to be a voice on food policy.

And from his perspective, he also expects Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to be a positive influence on Hillary Clinton. Vilsack who reportedly was one of two or three finalists to be Clinton’s running mate, is expected to have a role in her administration, possibly as chief of staff.

“Obviously he supports agribusiness, but he also supports small farmers, so I think he is doing his job. He should be supporting all farmers, not just one or the other.”