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Drivers passing by the Brentwood (MO) Whole Foods Market (WFM) on June 9 spied a 14 foot tall coyote puppet. Next to the puppet was a sign reading "Coyote Jim Says" followed by "GMOs Contaminate Food" and "Whole Foods Sells GMOs."
Twenty members of the Gateway Green Alliance (GGA) and Safe Food Action St. Louis (SFA), along with Occupy St. Louis supporters were reminding customers that higher prices at WFM do not necessarily buy better food. The action followed the refusal of WFM to discuss the safety of food it sells which contains GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
Many of the customers who stopped to talk were aware of health and environmental problems caused by GMOs and wanted to know how to avoid them. But they were mostly unaware of the large number of GMO products sold by WFM.
In April 2012 GGA and SFA presented WFM the results of a survey they did on attitudes toward food labeling by 315 participants in St. Louis. The poll found that 95% wanted labels on foods containing GMOs. It also showed that WFM customers were the least likely of five groups to be willing to serve GMOs. But, at the same time, they were the most likely to expect food at WFM to be free of GMO contamination.
Safe Food Action sent the April findings to WFM and asked management to contact them by May 14 to discuss the findings and recommendations. When WFM stonewalled them, the safe food advocates called a picket for June 9.
Though it would not dialogue with concerned customers, WFM had no trouble getting back with KWMU reporter Tim Lloyd. Lloyd wrote that WFM spokesperson Kate Klotz told him that labeling is "really something that should be addressed by the government."
Of course, the WFM public relations agent ignored the major issues, such as why WFM would not apply more stringent requirements for its suppliers than do other stores. Why should WFM customers pay more if its food has the same level of GMO contamination as do less expensive chains? An even more basic question for WFM is why its management will not have discussions with those who have in-depth knowledge of food issues. WFM has given no answer to the request that it state publicly that coexisting with GMOs causes risk to organics, human health, farming and wild species. Likewise, it remains silent on the request that it endorse an end to genetic engineering in agriculture, including forestry.
Most important is the lack of a WFM response to the request that it stop claiming that it is labeling foods that contain GMOs when it is not doing so. This silence indicates that WFM intends to continue its practice of labeling only foods that are free of GMOs and not alerting customers to potential dangers of food that does contain GMOs.
WFM spokespersons may suggest that it is waiting for government regulations before it acts. But its history suggests that WFM actively becomes involved in regulation issues -most recently on the wrong side. WFM had previously opposed deregulation of GMO alfalfa by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). This deregulation would remove limitations on where it could be planted. But, in January 2011, WFM endorsed "conditional" deregulation of GMO alfalfa.
The pattern of action and inaction by WFM makes it look like Monsanto's baby brother. While pretending to be critical of GMOs out of one side of its mouth, it fills its stores with them, does not label them while claiming that it does, and refuses to discuss a phase-out with safe food advocates.
This is what you can do to encourage WFM to sell safe food:
1. Call the nearest WFM store and ask the manager to tell the Austin WFM management of your concern that WFM sells food with unlabeled GMOs.
2. Look at the St. Louis survey of attitudes about labeling GMO food: http://ggef.stlcamp.org/announcement/attitudes-toward-labeling-gmo-food-st-louis
3. If you live in the Midwest, come to St. Louis for "Occupy Monsanto: GMO Free Midwest" September 16-17, 2012.
Email email@example.com [The website will be up soon.]
Don Fitz participates with Safe Food Action St. Louis and the Greens/Green Party USA.