Consumers and Market Forces Act Much Faster Than FDA
Whole Foods, Wild Oats to Ban Gene-Altered Foods
Here are a few excerpts from a recent Bloomberg news report, showing that consumer awareness of genetically-modified foods is growing fast. Notice how much more quickly the for-profit businesses are responding to consumer concerns than is the government -- why might that be?
Whole Foods Market Inc. and Wild Oats Markets Inc., the two largest natural-food store chains in the U.S., plan to ban genetically modified ingredients from their hundreds of private-label products.
The two grocers would be the largest U.S. food retailers to ban genetically modified ingredients. The Austin-based Whole Foods operates 103 stores in 22 states and Washington, D.C., and has more than 600 products carrying its brand name. Boulder, Colorado-based Wild Oats operates 110 stores in 22 states and British Columbia. It has about 700 products under its own brand.
The move follows similar bans by major European supermarket chains, reacting to consumer concerns over the foods' safety. Though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has deemed [editor's note -- they "deemed" without scientific investigation!] genetically modified foods to be safe and essentially no different than conventionally grown foods, the grocers' decision could influence public opinion, an analyst said.
``You're seeing more and more examples of this,'' said Frank Mitsch, an analyst with Deutsche Banc.
Concerns about Monsanto's agriculture business have contributed to a 25 percent decline in the price of its shares this year. The St. Louis-based maker of drugs, farm chemicals and seeds is planning to merge with Pharmacia & Upjohn Inc. to strengthen its pharmaceutical business. It also plans to spin off 20 percent of the agricultural business following the merger.
[Claiming that consumers are of no concern,] ``We don't think it's something we have to worry about for the large retailers,'' said Gene Grabowski, a spokesman for Grocery Manufacturers of America, which represents large brand- name food companies.
Modified Ingredients Widespread
An estimated 60 percent of U.S. grocery products contain ingredients derived from genetically modified crops such as corn and soybeans. These include products from such well-known companies as Kellogg Co., Nestle SA and PepsiCo Inc.
The natural-food grocers say they're acting on customer demand.
``It's a matter of having a shopping choice. A high percentage of our customers are opposed to anything artificially introduced into their food,'' said Jim Lee, president and chief operating officer of Wild Oats.
Lee said he hoped to begin changing the labels of Wild Oats products sometime next year to say the foods contained no genetically modified ingredients.
The natural-food companies ``who want to get their message to consumers are doing so,'' said Mitsch. ''People are starting to pay more attention.''
Whole Foods has arranged for lab testing of ingredients that might have been genetically modified, while Wild Oats said it would take the word of its suppliers. Genetically modified seeds were planted this year on more than half of the U.S. soybean acres and more than a third of U.S. corn acres, but the acreage planned for GM crops for 2000 has declined.
Shares of DuPont fell 3/4 to 65 1/8 and Monsanto fell 13/16 to 35 11/16 in New York Stock Exchange trading.
Whole Foods' planned move would be similar to European grocers' actions this year. Tesco Plc and J Sainsbury Plc, Britain's two biggest supermarket chains, eliminated genetically modified ingredients from their own-brand products, citing consumer concerns about altered foods.
Companies prove, again and again, that they do not need to use nor sell genetically-modified foods. Will the FDA ever take steps to protect children and other consumers, or is it too tightly in the grip of anti-scientific lobbyists? Tell your opinion to The Progress Report:
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