Organic Consumers Association

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Are Trader Joe's Products Safe? Why a Neighborhood Store Refuses to Share Its Secrets

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page, Millions Against Monsanto page and our All About Organics page.

Hip, floral-shirted employees in their 20s and 30s dot the aisles at your average Trader Joe's supermarket. They mill about, making small talk with shoppers, stocking the narrow shelves, and explaining where to find the quinoa and black bean-infused tortilla chips. The whole atmosphere is fun, but in a larger sense, built around a model of organic, low-cost food that people can feel morally comfortable eating, despite revealing almost nothing to them about where the food comes from.

If you're a TJ's supplier, you enjoy a binding agreement that states you won't disclose your relationship with the Monrovia, Calif.-based grocer. TJ's doesn't charge stocking fees, it pays on time, and it doesn't deal with couponing or advertising fees. These food sourcing secrets allow for TJ's signature markdowns, but they come with the added cost of opacity. Trader Joe's does not reveal its food sources, and in many cases, casts doubt on whether its claims of using non-GMO (genetically modified organism) ingredients are actually valid.

Trusting A Business's Claims

Trader Joe's released a statement in December 2012 addressing the controversy of using GMO ingredients in the store's products.

"Our approach to Genetically Modified Organisms is simple: we do not allow GMO ingredients in our private label products (anything with Trader Joe's, Trader Jose's, Trader Ming's, etc. on the label)," it read.

The statement elaborated that Trader Joe's, which is owned by Germany's Albrecht family under the parent company, Aldi, relies on suppliers to perform "the necessary research to provide documentation that the suspect ingredients are from non-GMO sources." The findings of this research are published in affidavits - written testimonials explaining how the food came from non-GMO sources. The problem is, no one can see these affidavits.     
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