Shareholders at Safeway have rejected a proposal from the Green Century Equity Fund calling for mandatory GMO labeling on its store brands, which company bosses claim would cost $15m+ to implement, while providing zero consumer benefits.
The GCEF notes that Safeway is “working to position itself competitively among consumers interested in all-natural and organic products” and that it “risks losing market share among this target demographic” if it fails to take the initiative on the GMO labeling issue.
Accordingly, it urges Safeway to “identify and label, where feasible, all food products manufactured or sold under the company’s brand names or private labels that may contain genetically engineered ingredients”.
Safeway supports voluntary labeling of products as non-GMO
However, Safeway bosses urged shareholders to vote against the “impractical” measure (which they did on Friday by a large majority; just 10% were in favor ) and instead support voluntary labeling initiatives that highlight organic and non-GMO options for consumers.
"Products making affirmative non-GMO and organic claims are already clearly labeled and readily available throughout our stores," added the retailer, which said that its Open Nature range is set to be non-GMO by January 2015, while its Organics range is by definition already non-GMO.
“The Company has determined that this approach presents a better and more competitive alternative than focusing efforts on the monitoring, labeling and/or removal of private label food products containing such ingredients," said the firm in its proxy statement to shareholders (click HERE pp241-243).
This is not an effective use of resources
On a more practical level, claimed the board, statements on food labels such as ‘this product may contain GMO’ would “not further a consumer’s understanding of which foods contain genetically engineered ingredients, but may create more confusion among consumers.
“Further, the company estimates it would initially cost over $15m to identify, confirm and certify its private label products that contain GMOs. In addition, such an undertaking would require establishing and maintaining a costly supplier audit and certification program…
“This is not an effective use of resources.”
The Whole Foods example is inapplicable to our business model
While Whole Foods has asked suppliers to label products made with ingredients from GMO crops by 2018, added Safeway bosses, “We believe that the Whole Foods example is inapplicable to our business model.
“Whole Foods, a non-conventional retailer, has a much smaller group of suppliers that provides a large percentage of its private label products. Safeway, a conventional retailer, has a larger and more complex private label supply chain.
“[Safeway] produces and markets thousands of different products, and uses large volumes of various raw materials… It would be difficult and costly, in the absence of federal laws and regulations applicable to all, to require its numerous suppliers to identify, track and verify crops and raw materials derived from modern biotechnology.”
It also noted that a scientific study cited by the GCEF to support its claims that GM crops are unsafe had been retracted by the journal in question.
This is beyond willful ignorance
Justin Danhof from conservative-leaning think tank The National Center for Public Policy Research welcomed the ‘NO’ vote, noting that every major scientific and regulatory body has concluded that foods from approved GM crops are safe for human consumption.
"In the face of all of the incontrovertible scientific evidence that GMOs are safe, the proponent of the GMO-labeling proposal had the temerity to tell Safeway's shareholders that no long-term scientific evidence exists to show that GMO foods are safe," claimed Danhof.
"This is beyond willful ignorance.”
Big food companies must stop passing the buck and engage in this debate
Several large food companies have faced questions about GMO labeling from anti-GMO activists at their AGMs in recent months, and have in turn been put under pressure by supporters of GE crops to engage in the debate personally instead of diverting inquiries to faceless industry-association-backed websites and organizations such as GMO Answers and the Coalition for Safe Affordable Food .
Danhof, for example, recently asked Kraft Foods Group CEO Tony Vernon (click HERE ) to try and regain the initiative in the PR war over GM crops, and claims that Vernon “pledged that in the coming months, the industry and Kraft would be much more vocal and aggressive in speaking about the many benefits of GMOs”.
Click on the link below for one industry view: BI Nutraceuticals boss: If you believe GMOs are safe and provide value, get out there and champion the cause