This month, The Food Co-op adds GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) education to its shelves in the form of red dots. The dots indicate products that may have genetically modified ingredients. The next time you shop, look for the DOT program chart on the end of aisles, and then look for the dots on the shelves. You’ll notice that there are not many red dots. Our buyers have done a great job!
Why Are We Getting Dotty?
We want to give members the information they need to make food choices. This is the number one reason. Reason number two is that corporate agriculture dominates the national discussion, which has led to a lack of regulation about labelling. We must step it up on a local level because it is not being done on a national level. At least 26 countries have banned and/or labeled GMO food, but so far in the US, only Vermont has been able to get a label law passed. Our state tried to pass an initiative for GMO labeling, but corporate opponents of I-522 spent tens of millions of dollars to defeat it. Millions of citizens want to know what their food is made of, but millions of corporate dollars are working hard to keep GMO labeling from becoming law. Until that hopefully inevitable day comes, The Food Co-op is taking its own steps to help members connect the dots and make informed choices.
How We Got Dotty
It is easy to buy safe produce when you know the farmer who grew it. That’s also true of processed products carrying the USDA organic or the Non-GMO Project label, but what about everything else on the shelf? Last year the Co-op’s Product Research Committee (PRC) began reading the labels of all the products in the store, searching for ingredients that might be GMO – non-organic soy, cottonseed, beet sugar, corn, canola, alfalfa, and papaya. If any of these suspects were listed in the top five ingredients, we contacted vendors and asked questions. The PRC drew a line at the top five ingredients because those usually constitute 90% or more of a product’s contents, and we believed checking the first five ingredients was doable (and much more thorough than the top three ingredients that a survey at the Ashland co-op had done). To see the full survey, look for the notebook located under the Board’s board at the front of the store.
Getting answers wasn’t easy – larger corporations don’t always want to be forthcoming, and smaller businesses may not have the personnel to ferret out the answers or the money to go through the Non-GMO Project verification process. Plus, the landscape is changing for the better all the time, so the PRC had to keep circling back to recheck products.
Some companies nimbly skirted the question until our persistent queries forced them to answer, but a few ignored our inquiries. If, after three requests for information, we receive no answer, or if they respond that they do not source non-GMO ingredients, their product gets a red dot. These items won’t be taken off the shelf, but they will be flagged, allowing Food Co-op members to choose.
The Good News
When we began this process, we were a little nervous because we’d all heard the stories about how 70 percent of products probably have GMO ingredients. While that might be true of conventional grocery stores, it certainly wasn’t true of our beloved co-op.
Good news to keep in mind:
- Our audit revealed only a small percentage of products needed additional research. Our buyers have done a notable job steering clear of GMO ingredients.
- Most products flagged in the audit were verified by producers as being non-GMO.
- We have now recorded over 1,000 Non-GMO Project verified products and many more USDA organic products.
- Our buying process prevents any new products from inadvertently slipping GMO ingredients into our store in the future.
The Work Continues
The PRC is not done with this task. We are still gathering information on some sections of the store, and we will continue to update our information as well as the binder. The ability to make healthier choices—and changing the market through those choices—is the point of this extensive exercise in transparency. So, go forth and change the world by changing the market place!
The Food Co-op Product Research Committee