Natural Foods Merchandiser
Are retailers ready to face a new level of GMO debate?

Are retailers ready to face a new level of GMO debate?

Recent GMO labeling initiatives may not have received voter approval, but they have sparked new levels of conversation and concern across the nation. Natural foods retailers play various roles in the politics as purveyors of good food and information. Are you ready?

This might be the year the GMO debate grows faster than the superweeds spawned by genetically modified seeds.

Last year’s headline-grabbing news of failed labeling initiatives in the West and of Whole Foods Market’s plan to label all products containing modified ingredients rocketed the issue from the health food set to a mainstream audience.

Marketing ploy or not, General Mills’ commitment in early January to make Cheerios GMO free proves the point.

This wasn’t the only story getting mainstream media attention:

  • Monsanto announced its progress on herbicide-tolerant wheat (even if commercial use remains years away), during its earnings call.
  • Maine’s governor signed a state labeling law, one that becomes active after other Northeastern states adopt similar rules.

How do you approach genetically modified foods in your store?
  • The USDA released a draft environmental impact statement approving 2,4-D resistant “Agent Orange” seeds.
  • And leaked documents reportedly purport a big food-Food and Drug Administration deal for instituting voluntary labeling, defining “natural” and eliminating state’s rights for unique laws.

Get ready for even bigger news and even bigger debates. And prepare yourself and your staff for the conversations that are bound to occur on the floor at your store. Natural foods retailers have been on the forefront of this food folly for years. Leaders such as The Natural Grocery Company and the Big Carrot Natural Food Market founded the Non-GMO Project. In California and Washington, natural retailers took the issue to their states’ ballots and drew nationwide attention as the election battles boiled over and ultimately failed.

Trudy Bialic of PCC Natural Markets talks with Natural Foods Merchandiser this month about why taking a political stance on GMO labeling is important to the Washington state cooperative and what’s next for the business.

For some though, stepping into the public realm or even banning GM-containing products from their shelves isn’t the right business decision. NFM found a spectrum of retail approaches as we looked at how natural foods retailers handle genetically modified foods in their stores.

I suspect even more variations exist and still more will arise as the GMO debate draws more attention.

No matter the retail stocking decisions made, I do hope natural foods retailers will continue to play an important part as community educators, conveners, leaders and even political persuaders.

You, after all, stand on the front lines.

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