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More on Trader Joe's Supermarket Chain Going GE-Free

More on Trader Joe's Supermarket
Chain Going GE-Free

Environment News Network 11/20/01

Trader Joe's Grocer to Phase-Out Genetically-Engineered Foods

By this time next year, all Trader Joe's private label products should
be GE-Free. The specialty grocery chain has responded to pressure from
consumers and environmental groups who would rather not eat foods made
from genetically engineered crops.

Eighty-five percent of the products sold at Trader Joe's stores carry
the company's private label. Trader Joe's CEO Dan Bane made the
announcement at company headquarters in Los Angeles and promised that
the national grocery chain would ensure that its source ingredients
are not genetically engineered. "Effective immediately," said Bane,
"we will work with any new vendor to produce private label products
for Trader Joe's without genetically engineered ingredients. Our goal
for existing private label products is to have all such products
reformulated, if necessary, and certified within one year."

Bane said the decision came after "talking with our customers,
reviewing food production methods with our vendors and studying the
issues related to genetically engineered foods" for the past several
months.

Trader Joe's acknowledged that 90 to 95 percent of customers said they
want the chain to stop using genetically engineered ingredients.

"While there is a great deal of passion regarding this matter among
customers and the public at large, it is clear to us that if given the
opportunity, the majority of our customers would prefer to have
products made without genetically engineered ingredients," Bane said.

"We'd been leafletting Trader Joe's in Scarsdale and Larchmont," said
Andy Zimmerman, an activist with the New York State Greens. "I'm so
happy Trader Joe's listened. Now people who want safe food have a new
place to shop."

Trader Joe's has 159 stores in 15 states. The chain will develop a
program of random testing to verify the certifications and on-going
compliance of our vendors.

A genetically engineered organism has been modified by altering one or
more genes by transfering a gene of interest from one organism to
another. A gene of interest might be one that provides greater
resistance to pests, diseases or chemicals used to destroy weeds in
the field, or one that allows a fruit to grow larger.

The first genetically altered plant created was a tobacco plant with
resistance to antibiotics in 1983. It was almost 10 years later when
the first commercial genetically altered crop, a delayed ripening
tomato, was commercially released.

Today, corn and soy are the two most commonly used food crops that
have been genetically altered, but genetically engineered tomatoes,
sugarbeets, canola, cotton, flax, squash, papaya, and rice also exist.
There is even a coffee that is genetically engineered to be caffeine
free.

A Trader Joe's spokesperson said the company is confident it can
source non-GE ingredients. But Bane reminded consumers that there is
no system in the United States to completely guard against
"adventitious contamination" from the genetic drift by genetically
engineered crop to non-genetically engineered crops.

Therefore, "it is not possible for any supplier or retailer to
realistically offer any guarantee that their products are GMO-free,"
he said.

Greenpeace, GE-Free LA and Northwest RAGE launched a campaign against
the chain to force a change to its policy on the use of genetically
engineered foods.

A nationwide Day of Action against Trader Joe's took place on April 17
just before Earth Day, to publicize the campaign. The GE-Free Market
Coalition was formed in September of this year to focus national
attention on the Trader Joe's campaign. The coalition includes
Greenpeace, GE-Free L.A, Organic Consumers Association, GE-Free Marin,
NW RAGE, New York State Greens, Genetic Engineering Action Network,
GeneWise of Chicago, and the Safe Foods Campaign, based in New
England.

Thousands of consumers around the country have sent faxes, e-mails and
letters to the company, and protested outside Trader Joe's stores in
over 20 cities. One of Trader Joe's competitors, the Whole Foods
grocery chain has already gone GE-Free in its store brand products.

The position of the U.S. government during both the Clinton and Bush
administrations has been in favor of genetic engineering of food
crops. Currently, there are no recognized U.S. government standards
regarding the labeling of genetically engineered foods. The
marketplace rather than government regulation appears to be setting
the standard for genetically engineered products in the United States.

Three agencies are primarily responsible for regulating biotechnology
in the United States -- the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the
Environmental Protection Agency, and the Food and Drug Administration
(FDA).

The FDA's biotechnology policy treats substances intentionally added
to food through genetic engineering as food additives if they are
significantly different in structure, function, or amount than
substances currently found in food.

"Many of the food crops currently being developed using biotechnology
do not contain substances that are significantly different from those
already in the diet and thus do not require pre-market approval," the
agency says.

Bane said Trader Joe's is encouraging its customers to write to their
congressional representatives, the FDA and the Department of
Agriculture "to let them know how you feel about genetic engineering
of the food supply and the lack of labeling standards for such
products."

"Only by developing a national standard related to this issue," said
Bane, "can food retailers and suppliers provide customers with
products and information so they can make informed choices when
purchasing food for themselves and their families."

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