March 09, 2013

#WholeFoods ups ante on #GMO foods

A Santa Monica, Calif., Whole Foods Market. AP photo via NYT
America's luxury grocery giant, which had already started some labeling of food containing genetically modified organisms, especially in its "house" line of products, said Friday it will require such labeling in five years.


No matter whether one thinks worry over GMO foods is all-hype, a mix of hype and legit concern, or whatever, Whole Foods has changed the game, and I can't see how food companies can totally resist this at lower-level groceries, i.e., stuff for sale at Safeway and its twins, Kroger, WallyWorld, etc., even if it doesn't cause anything similar to full adoption.

It's drawing praise in some quarters:
Gary Hirshberg, chairman of Just Label It, a campaign for a federal requirement to label foods containing genetically modified ingredients, called the Whole Foods decision a “game changer.” ...

He compared the potential impact of the Whole Foods announcement to Wal-Mart’s decision several years ago to stop selling milk from cows treated with growth hormone. Today, only a small number of milk cows are injected with the hormone.  
But it's certainly not getting praise everywhere.

Predictably, many food manufacturers (hey, manufacture is the right word), and the "conventional" grocers, are both resisting:
The Grocery Manufacturers Association, the trade group that represents major food companies and retailers, issued a statement opposing the move. “These labels could mislead consumers into believing that these food products are somehow different or present a special risk or a potential risk,” Louis Finkel, the organization’s executive director of government affairs, said in the statement. 
Sorry, Charlie, but they ARE different.

As to special risk?

I think it's overblown by hardcore anti-GMO people, but that it's not nonexistent.

Insertion of Brazil nut genes into other food products, specifically soybeans in this case, does appear to cause allergy reactions in persons who suffer Brazil nut allergies when they consume these particular GMOs. And, that's the New England Journal of Medicine saying that, not a Mercola.

As for claims that GMO engineering is just another take on what Mother Nature does? Wrong.

Evolution by natural selection doesn't magically pluck a group of peanut genes and insert them into the rice genome or whatever.

Nor does it operate on anywhere the same speed, even within the same species, such as Monsanto's Roundup Ready crops.

Third, the success of GMO crops isn't always what it's cracked up to be.

Higher protein rice that also produces Vitamin A? I'm all for that, while still noting we need to monitor such crops for potential longer-term issues.

The Roundup Ready stuff? Already, Roundup-resistant weeds can be found throughout the US.

Plus, there's the economic imperialism of a Monsanto with its Roundup Ready crops. That especially plays out in the developing world.

That, in turn, relates to the "speed" issue of rate of genetic change. As I've blogged before, this parallels some climate change minimalists saying that we've had warming before.

So, GMA members on GMO? You need to start your bitching with Monsanto, not Whole Foods.

Anyway, how will this play out elsewhere? Given that WallyWorld actually helped lead the charge on bovine growth hormones and milk, if it even partially follows suit here, that's it. Game over.

And, here in Texas, I can offer more specifics. Whole Foods' luxe competitor, Central Market, will find no choice but to match this move. But because Central Markets' house-brand products also sell in its parent company's H-E-B mass-market grocery stores, this will affect larger H-E-B product display.

My thoughts on such labeling? 

At a bare, bare minimum, I think any GMO that has genes from an original species known to produce human allergens (such as the insertion of Brazil nut genes into other plant genomes) needs to be labeled across the board. 

Expect this all to be HUGELY resisted. That's because at least one former federal employee turned lobbyist has lied about the GMO allergen issue and related matters, the Department of Agriculture has repeatedly shown itself to be in bed with the likes of Monsanto and more.

That said, if there's really nothing wrong with GMOs in general, or some particular modification in specific, tell us! It's not like the GMA, let alone Archer Daniel Midlands, Monsanto or others don't have bazillions of dollars of marketing money to tell us that.

As for my personal take?

I view GMOs somewhat like nuclear power.

In the abstract, it sounds great, and I'm generally for it. When it comes to a specific issue, that's when the rubber hits the road, and often, in my opinion and to complete the analogy, the result is a flat tire or a blowout.

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