With its more than 70,000 visitors and 3,000 exhibitors, Expo West is the Coachella of the food industry. Catering to those interested in alternative ways of eating and producing food, Expo West began in 1980 – a time when organic food was still a “hippie-thing”, but GMOs hadn’t entered the market yet (commercial sale of GMOs began in 1994). Today, clean and green eating is all the rage, and Expo West has become an eclectic mix of big players exhibiting alongside new start-ups. Expo West is a must-visit for those who consider themselves part of the Food Movement.
HFG’s friend, Boulder-based organic industry marketing guru Steven Hoffman (Managing Partner, Compass Natural) is an Expo veteran – he’s attended the event a whopping 31 times and remains as enthusiastic as ever. Hoffman said of the event: “What stood out at Expo West was the overall record-breaking attendance and energy at the show. People from all over the world attend Expo West, as it has become the world’s primary showcase of healthy, natural and organic food and products innovation.” Hoffman, former Rodale Institute CEO Timothy LaSalle and others were part of a panel on regenerative agriculture that focused on the role of healthy soils in reversing climate change. The climate momentum we witnessed during last year’s COP21 in Paris is far from over – the industry is now catching up with what scientists and experts have been saying for years.
Expo West took place just a few days before we defeated the DARK Act, a federal bill that if passed would have preempted states from labeling GMOs. But labeling is not where it ends. Another issue that came up more than once was the future of the processed food industry. With new genome editing techniques on the horizon, how will we define GMOs in the future? Where is biotech headed and how will it influence our work as advocates and our lives as consumers? The sentiment at Expo was mostly in support of organic and sustainable foods, whereas in the exhibit halls one could still pick up products vaguely labeled as “natural”.
The “Non-GMO Verified” logo was very much present in the hall, but as Steven Hoffman rhetorically puts it: “Non-GMO product growth continues to be strong, but is it at the expense of a full commitment to organic?” Non-GMO verified products can still be produced with toxic synthetic chemicals, sewage sludge and irradiation. Organic is not a trend – at HFG/CFS, we believe that organic should be the floor, not the ceiling, of food production. Focusing on non-GMO can make shoppers even more confused than they are now due to the overwhelming abundance of labels and certifications.
A definitive highlight at Expo was the Living Wage panel with David Bronner (CEO, Dr. Bronner’s), The Fairness Project, Cambridge Naturals, Ben & Jerry’s and Fair World Project. It’s hard not to support the Fight for $15 – a national campaign that urges states to raise the minimum wage. And yet it’s important to see this fight from the employer’s perspective. The discussion provided great insight into how Dr. Bronner’s, Cambridge Naturals and Ben & Jerry’s have made it their mission to enforce fair labor policies and how this approach can make for a better product and a happier consumer.
See you at next year’s Expo West!