Trader Joe's & US Supermarkets Claim Impossibility of Going GE-Free

Trader Joe's & US Supermarkets Claim Impossibility of Going GE-Free

May 14, Fairchild Publications, Inc
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As retailers see the sales of organic foods increase, and as national
organic standards soon take effect, rising awareness of genetically modified
foods seems to be the next issue.

Organically certified products are supposed to be, by definition, free of
GMOs, according to the newly adopted USDA standards. Some retailers are
having a hard time ensuring that their suppliers are really GMO-free. Others
don't want to make it a rallying point.

Pat St. John, vice president of marketing for Trader Joe's West Coast
division in South Pasadena, Calif., said the chain sources organic products
whenever possible, and objects to being targeted by Greenpeace for selling
GM foods, "when 60% to 70% of the food on anybody's shelf is likely to
contain GMOs. "We don't carry, nor do we claim to carry, GMO-free
products. It is a goal of ours, but due to certain standards, we are unable
to guarantee it at this point," St. John said. "Trader Joe's is not going to
say we aim to do something that we are not sure we will ever be able to
do.² Regarding labeling, St. John said, "The state of the industry right
now is very much in flux, and even well-meaning people are finding it very
difficult. [For GMOs,] if the FDA, or USDA choose to mandate labeling, they
will have to agree on what the labeling will be. To test down to the zero
percent is impossible now.

Topco Associates, a private-label cooperative in Skokie, Ill., has a natural
organic line called Full Circle, which puts on its packages of soy milk, for
example, a reference saying "produced from organic non-GMO soybeans"
instead of claiming GMO-free, because that allows for a possible trace level,
explained Fred Arnal, who heads the Full Circle program. "It's a matter of
good quality assurance, and like kosher, you have to have a paper trail.
Producers are testing corn in the field, manufacturers testing again when
it's received -- that's what it's going to come to," Arnal said. "Everyone
is going to have to test at every stage of the process, which could put some
cost into the system. Until they require labeling, it won't have the

Although Hy-Vee Food Stores, West Des Moines, Iowa, is seeing more
organic sales, the chain's director of public affairs, Ruth Mitchell, said: "We are
doing a lot more as a company to promote them and showcase them throughout
the stores. We don't think it's due to people avoiding GMOs. Our newer
stores group those items into a Hy-Vee Health Market section, organic and
natural and containing a lot of the special dietary needs products and
low-fat products. We are finding that customers are all over the board with
reasons why those products appeal to them. In some cases, it's concern over
GMOs or pesticides; in other cases, it's dietary restrictions. We are
getting a lot of questions now about [celiac disease and] gluten-free foods.
People have environmental reasons for wanting products certified that they
are grown in an environmentally healthy area; also, some desire low-fat
products. A real cross section of consumers come to this section. And
something new for us here in the heartland is more people following
vegetarian or vegan diets. The Midwest is not noted for that, but
[vegetarianism] is becoming more mainstream.

Joanne Gage, speaking for Price Chopper, Schenectady, N.Y., said, "If it is
going to be called 'organic,' then it cannot contain any genetically
modified organisms. At this point, genetically modified food has not become
a raging consumer issue for us. But I can say it's very difficult for us to
be able to tell a customer whether or not a food contains GMO. We pride
ourselves, as retailers, on being able to provide our customers with
information about the packages of food they buy. This is a touchy issue, but
at least this gives us the ability to tell them if you have any concern
about GMO foods, you will be able to buy something certified organic."
Gage said Price Chopper has written letters to all of its private-label
suppliers, to find out what they can tell the retailer. "We have not taken a
stand on whether it does or it doesn't contain GMOs. We just want to know.
And we wouldn't play it up. By doing that, you'd be giving the feeling that
there is something wrong with GMOs, but that it is not what we believe. We
just all want the right to know. We are not talking about adding any
additional costly labeling, but just some guidelines. There has got to be a
way for the consumer to have access to this information."

The big issue on standards for the Grocery Manufacturers of America is to be
sure that people don't perceive "organic" as superior, said Gene Grabowski,
vice president of communications for the Washington, D.C.-based industry
association, which represents 144 manufacturers of branded consumer packaged

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