A small but determined group of students gathered on the Collis Center porch yesterday afternoon in its second step toward raising campus awareness about genetically modified foods.
Wednesday's event was the follow-up to a survey campaign conducted about two weeks ago at various Dartmouth dining establishments.
The student organizers, Sue DuBois '05, Peter Rapp '03 and Chris Prentice '05, began the meeting with a series of short speeches outlining their current work on campus and the facts on genetically modified organisms in American food.
Prentice revealed the results of the survey, stating that while many students questioned weren't previously aware of the issue, most agreed that they would like to see labels on GMO-based products.
Rapp discussed various issues surrounding genetically modified foods, stressing their negative effects on the environment and irreparable damage they can wreak on organic farms.
Adverse effects of genetically-altered substances include narrowing the diversity of plants and crops and killing off or stunting the growth of certain insects, such as the monarch butterfly, according to Rapp. If genetically altered substances in airborne pollen contaminate an organic farm, he said, there is no remedy, and the farm can no longer call itself "organic."
While few students actually stopped to listen, several curiously examined a colorful poster identifying the accused companies and picked up a flyer or information sheet before moving on.
"This is a particular area I didn't know about, but I'm definitely going to read up on it," Ian McGullam '05 said.
In an interview before the event, Prentice said the student organizers were mainly interested in generating debate and discussion, rather than instigating the frustration and anger sometimes associated with rallies or protests.
"Our main goal is awareness -- we figure the outrage will come naturally," Rapp said.
He added that they hoped to "get people between classes" and develop the event into a question-and-answer session.
The organizers first learned about the debate surrounding GMO-based foods during a campus visit by Frankie Lind, the East Coast coordinator of a national organization called Ecopledge.
According to its website, www.ecopledge.com, the group aims to effect changes in "corporate environmental behavior."
Ecopledge will target the largest corporation practicing a particular environmentally -harmful activity, assuming that smaller companies in the same industry will follow suit if changes are made, Rapp explained.
In this case, Kraft Foods was targeted because it is the largest American food company, according to one Ecopledge leaflet.
Ecopledge's goal is to make labeling of GMO-based foods mandatory in the United States, a measure already taken by the European Union in 1998, Rapp said.
Literature given out at the event said that the EU legislation relied on consumer choice to eliminate GMO-based products from stores, an outcome rapidly propagated across Europe.
An initiative in Oregon to require such labeling will be voted on in November, according to www.thecampaign.org, a website dedicated solely to this issue. If passed, oregon will be the first state to implement such a policy.
Dartmouth is one of the first schools in the country to take action regarding this issue, said Rapp. He expects that many more campuses will get involved over the next two months.
Rapp, DuBois and Prentice said their next move is to organize a round-table discussion on genetically modified foods sometime in the next two weeks.
"I'm really proud of us," DuBois said.