Gene Wise

Genewise members are food activists at the genetic level. The group was formed in 2001 in response to a big meeting of biotechnology firms in Chicago and since then has been using direct action and public education campaigns to raise awareness about the genetic engineering of food. “Everyone eats, from CEOs to the homeless. No one can escape this issue,” said Kath Duffy, the voluble organizer for the group (and many other food-related projects. See “Dill Pickle Coop” interview). “Like many other corporate-related areas, there has been a severe lack of ethics by biotechnology companies.

“There’s not enough testing. There’s not enough dialogue. All we have are scientists.”

Genewise organizes on multiple scales—necessary given the global sweep of transnational food and biotech firms—but they do not neglect the local. Illinois work can have wide impact because, as Duffy puts it, “We’re the center of agriculture but also the center of the business of agriculture.” Their “Macaroni & Genes” campaign forced the Northfield, Illinois-based Kraft Foods to reduce the amount of genetically modified ingredients in the company’s popular and ubiquitous blue boxes of mac and cheese to meet the European Union standard. “The region is hot for this kind of work,” Duffy explained.

A current statewide Genewise campaign means to thwart “preemptive legislation” designed to block Illinois counties and municipalities from banning genetically modified and engineered foods in their political jurisdictions.