Stephen Collins

My 5 Minutes with the President

Actor Stephen Collins is best known for his role as the Rev. Eric Camden in the television series “7th Heaven.” He also notably portrayed Cmdr. Willard Decker in “Star Trek: The Motion Picture.” Collins’s Broadway credits include his role as King Arthur in “Spamalot” and prior appearances in “Moonchildren,” “The Ritz,” “The Loves of Anatol,” “No Sex Please” and “We’re British.” Collins is a noted musician and the author of two novels: Eye Contact and Double Exposure. Collins is also an avid rock musician and can be seen performing on both coasts with his band. You can see Collins in the ABC series “No Ordinary Family.” He is one of the co-founders of The Creative Coalition.

Robin Bronk: If you had five minutes in the Oval Office with President Obama, what would you discuss with him? What issue would you like him to know about?

Stephen Collins: I’d talk to the president about food. American food is in serious danger. Packaged foods on our supermarket shelves have become overwhelmingly contaminated with GMO: genetically modified organisms.

I’d urge Mr. Obama to work to keep strong organic standards, so that Americans can at least choose their food. Some people may want the right to bear arms. I want the right to buy fresh, local, organic food. Over 90 percent of the food in American supermarkets contains GMO ingredients, and yet only about 25 percent of Americans think they’ve ever eaten GMO.

I would urge the president to consider that companies like Monsanto have good intentions about feeding more people, but that some of their methods are dangerously untested. We simply don’t know the effects of eating GMO food.

We test drugs before they go to the market, but we don’t test food! Is it a good idea to eat non-organic alfalfa which is resistant to Monsanto’s weed killer, RoundUp? No, thanks. Monsanto and other “Big Food” companies also want to patent seeds and foods, making it literally illegal for some farmers to grow certain crops.

Mr. Obama’s secretary of agriculture, Tom Vilsack, is too much in favor of GMO foods. GMO foods, if they are even allowed, must be labeled in Europe. Europeans are much better informed about what they eat than Americans, who get swayed by lobbyists and “smart” advertising. We must have labeling of GMO foods. Americans would be horrified, which is why “Big Food” fights so hard against labeling.

It’s not impossible, but it’s challenging to find a TV ad for a food that’s actually good for you, in my not-so-humble opinion. There’s way too much sugar and high-fructose corn syrup in the American diet. American cows used to feed on grass, which is what cows naturally eat. In America, 99 percent of cows are force-fed GMO corn. The result is a cow that fattens quickly and whose beef tastes good — but, alas, corn-fed beef is very difficult (some say impossible) for humans to digest. It isn’t a coincidence that diabetes and heart disease are so much on the rise.

Michelle Obama did a magnificent thing when she planted her little organic garden after the Obamas moved into the White House. I would urge the president to listen to his wife. I would urge him to be terrifically cautious about letting the food industry do its thing — using GMOs, pesticides and unneeded preservatives while letting Madison Avenue and an inactive FDA determine what we eat. If the “Big Food” industry has its way, organic standards will be lowered and lowered until they become meaningless. We simply can’t let this happen.

“Big Food” has powerful, well-paid lobbyists to preserve their way of doing things. I don’t think they are evil. I think they are ignorant and that their thinking is oversimplified.

More food isn’t necessarily better food. Americans ate more digestible, wholesome food 50 years ago than we do now. Our food today has a shelf life of months, even years, but Americans are paying a terrible price for it. Europeans know better, and we need to catch up.

The “revolution” of processed, preserved, GMO foods has not made us healthier. It’s made us more and more obese, and more prone to heart disease, cancer and diabetes. These trends are not coincidences.

We are what we eat. Until very recently, Americans ate fresh, whole, local, organic food, harvested in season. And we were healthier. At the very least, we need to have food labels that tell us when we’re eating GMO ingredients. That’s what I’d talk to the president about.

RB: If you could give President Obama one piece of advice, what would that be?

SC: I’d suggest that he find a new secretary of agriculture who: a) isn’t in the thrall of the “Big Food” industry and its lobbyists; b) is in favor of food-labeling of GMO products; and c) wants to protect organic standards in agriculture, not weaken them.

RB: If you could ask President Obama one question, what would that be?

SC: What’s the capital of Pennsylvania … because that one almost always stumps me.

RB: Would you ever consider a political career?

SC: If only I wouldn’t have to run for office. But I’d accept an appointment to the Senate the next time there’s a vacant seat!

Bronk is a seasoned Capitol Hill strategist and advocate. She started her career at The Creative Coalition, a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group for the arts and entertainment industry, in July 1998. During her tenure as CEO, Bronk has taken The Creative Coalition from a New York-based entity to a national organization. www.thecreativecoalition.org