- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 5, 2012

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Vani Hari had a tube of lipstick, a front-row seat and a message.

Amid the sea of blue and white signs waved by thousands of delegates at the Democratic National Convention, the 33-year-old North Carolina delegate stood with her “Forward” sign held high, crowned by the words “Label GMOs!” written in lipstick red.

As a delegate from the convention’s host state, Ms. Hari has a seat near the stage each night. On Tuesday, armed only with her lipstick, a shade called True Blood, Ms. Hari said the sign alteration, intended to highlight the concerns about foods produced from genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, came as a spur-of-the-moment idea.

“I thought, whoa, here’s an opportunity to spread awareness about labeling GMOs, which street-corner protests couldn’t even compare to doing it right in front of the first lady,” she said Wednesday, as she revealed a large bag of permanent markers from her purse, planned for the night’s speeches.

“I am not afraid to tell people what’s in their food,” she said. “Every American needs to know that 90 percent of the processed foods they eat are genetically modified.”

With one of the best seats in the house during this week’s convention, Ms. Hari said she is making the most of it, using her proximity to the podium to educate anyone curious about genetically modified organisms in food, and remind President Obama about a promise made five years ago that he hasn’t kept.

“In 2007, he wanted labels for genetically modified food,” Ms. Hari said. “I ran to be a delegate again to make sure he stays accountable for that decision. He hasn’t addressed it once.”

In July, a Senate bill to strengthen GMO oversight and regulation was rendered toothless by changes approved in the Republican-controlled House. In California, however, voters are set to decide whether the state will become the first to require labels for genetically modified food, with many powerful agribusiness companies and food brands opposing the measure. Ms. Hari said she plans to campaign on the West Coast as ballot time draws near.

Ms. Hari said she got serious about what she eats about 10 years ago, when she developed appendicitis.

“I almost died,” the Charlotte, N.C., resident said. “It was a life-threatening experience and changed my opinion on what food was.”

A banking consultant by day, Ms. Hari is also the face behind the blog FoodBabe, which boasts more than 19,000 followers on Twitter. On it, she monitors GMO news, posts recipes and reviews of restaurants and food vendors.

While Ms. Hari said she doesn’t want to dictate what people eat, labeling food allows consumers to be educated on what it is they’re eating.

“We deserve the right to choose,” she said.

• Meredith Somers can be reached at msomers@washingtontimes.com.

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