7-Business: Two US supermarkets ban GE food
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TITLE: 2 chains ban engineered foods
Supermarkets: Whole Foods, Wild Oats are the first big U.S. stores to follow Europe's halts on genetically modified ingredients.
SOURCE: Los Angeles Times, by Melinda Fulmer
DATE: December 31, 1999
----------------- archive: http://www.gene.ch/ ------------------
2 chains ban engineered foods
Supermarkets: Whole Foods, Wild Oats are the first big U.S.
stores to follow Europe's halts on genetically modified
Underscoring the growing backlash against agricultural
biotechnology in the U.S., the nation's two largest natural food
supermarket chains said Thursday that they will ban genetically
modified ingredients from their hundreds of private-label
products. Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market Inc., which
operates 103 stores in 22 states, and 110-store Wild Oats Markets
Inc. of Boulder, Colo., are the first major supermarket chains in
the nation to ban genetically modified ingredients, following
similar bans by European supermarket chains concerned about food
safety. Whole Foods operates 16 stores in Southern California,
and Wild Oats has eight.
"The truth is we don't know what the effects of GMOs are, and we
think consumers should have the right to choose," says John
Mackey, chief executive of Whole Foods. About 12% of Whole Foods'
$1.6 billion in sales in the fiscal year ended September 1999
were derived from sales of its more than 600 private-label
products. Wild Oats derives about 10% of its revenue from almost
1,000 of its branded products, says President Jim Lee.
The move, which follows a ban by several major baby-food
manufacturers and calls by members of Congress for special
labeling, could further intensify public outcry about genetically
modified organisms, or GMOs, which experts estimate are in about
60% of all grocery products through genetically engineered corn
or soybeans. However, supermarket industry officials and food
manufacturing associations say most mainstream supermarket chains
are unlikely to adopt similar restrictions because they don't
consider GMOs a health risk and because it would prove too
"The majority of foods do have some biotech ingredients in them,"
said Lisa McCue, spokeswoman for the Grocery Manufacturers Assn.
of America. "It would be very difficult for most mainstream
supermarkets to go totally non-biotech." Indeed, analysts say,
it's much easier for natural foods chains to ban genetically
modified ingredients because many of their products are organic
and these foods by definition cannot contain genetically altered
Indeed, some analysts said these chains are exploiting consumer
fears to sell more of these more profitable products. But
officials from both chains say they are responding to customer
demand. "We are receiving tons of letters and e-mail," Mackey
says. "A lot of our customers don't want GMOs in their food."
The Food and Drug Administration has said it considers
genetically engineered foods safe, carrying no greater risk than
food grown from conventional seed. However, public concern about
the potential long-term health risks has prompted the agency to
solicit public comment on its policies. The FDA currently allows
genetically altered material in food, as long as it doesn't
contain allergens or substantially alter the nutritional content
of the food.
"If there was any scientific evidence that GMOs were unsafe, then
Kroger would cease selling [products containing] them," says Gary
Rhodes, a spokesman for Kroger Co., parent of Ralphs. Officials
with Safeway Inc., parent of Vons, were not available for
Margaret Wittenberg, vice president of governmental and public
affairs for Whole Foods, says most of its private-label products
already are free of genetically modified ingredients. It is now
trying to line up new supply contracts for the remaining products
and will lab test the ingredients and products to ensure they are
Likewise, Wild Oats President Jim Lee says his chain will begin
introducing GMO-free products beginning next year, using an
outside lab to test for genetically modified ingredients.
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