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PCC fights for the right to know and you can, tooPCC fights for the right to know and you can, too

PCC Natural Markets in Washington state leads right-to-know efforts and your store can, too, with these tips from Initiative 522 leader Trudy Bialic.

Kelsey Blackwell

February 2, 2014

4 Min Read
PCC fights for the right to know and you can, too
<p>Trudy Bialic of PCC Natural Markets</p>

Last October, voters in Washington state declined to pass Initiative 522, which would have required food manufacturers to label genetically modified ingredients. This defeat frustrated many natural products retailers, including Seattle-based PCC Natural Markets, but it did not damper the co-op’s determination to make GMO labeling a reality.

Trudy Bialic, PCC’s director of public affairs, has been leading the Northwest natural chain’s pro–GMO labeling charge for years and continues to pilot the company into the future, despite I-522’s defeat. Bialic gives us the straight facts about GMO labeling and explains how PCC is taking matters into its own hands, legislation be damned.  

Natural Foods Merchandiser: What is PCC’s policy on GMOs?


Trudy Bialic: We’ve joined the group of retailers that will require GMO labeling by 2018. We’ll start using an affidavit system that asks vendors to affirm that their products do not contain GMOs. Products don’t have to be Non-GMO Project Verified but vendors must show that they are GMO free. We’ll quit working with those who don’t sign the affidavit. We don’t know what the exact time line for implementing this will be; we’re figuring that out now.

NFM: Will labeling GMOs increase prices in your stores?

TB: That’s a make-believe argument. We get cost increases on food every day, but they are never, ever caused by labeling. People forget that we didn’t have ingredients lists or Nutrition Facts panels until the early 1990s. The food industry and the Grocery Manufacturers Association fought those for years, claiming relabeling would cost too much. It did not end up increasing prices—or consumer confusion—yet it did provide consumers a great service. Ultimately, GMA admitted that cost wasn’t a factor after all. Still, with the GMO labeling issue, the major players have succeeded at scaring people into believing that labeling would drive up prices.

NFM: If cost isn’t an issue, why is the food industry against labeling?

TB: The whole issue is transparency. If manufacturers can get away with using the cheapest, worst ingredients, then why wouldn’t they? Transparency is not in their best interest because they know people would be scared and confused if they knew what was really in their food.

NFM: Will companies eventually come around to consumer pressure?

TB: Yes. After 2018, everything must be labeled, and I think the market will shake that out. But a fair number of companies are already realizing that fighting GMO labeling is worse than accepting it. Battling transparency damages brand image and consumer confidence. When a large percentage of the public wants GMO labeling, they’re telling companies that they don’t like ingredients being putting into food without their knowledge.

NFM: Were you involved in I-522 efforts?

TB: PCC definitely took a leadership role. We helped draft the initiative, wrote letters, organized debates, led steering committees, attended board meetings and spoke to the media. Our company donated more than $200,000 in cash. Members independently raised more than $110,000.

NFM: So you have strong community support?

TB: GMOs are a very important issue for our community. Washington is one of the most trade-dependent states in the country. Apples, wheat and salmon are our prime exports, but many primary export nations are GM sensitive and require labels. Major markets in Asia won’t accept GMOs. Wheat prices fell 60 cents per bushel when GMO wheat was found in Oregon last year, even though nations resumed buying. That has meant direct losses for farmers and the state treasury. Farmers are already being hurt from the lack of labeling because they have to pay fees to test every load that’s exported. Also, our salmon industry will not survive if the Food and Drug Administration approves AquaBounty’s GM salmon.

NFM: How should fellow natural retailers handle the labeling issue?

TB: GMO labeling is coming. It’s going to happen, so retailers would be wise to provide what consumers want to know instead of putting their heads in the sand and pretending it’ll go away. Retailers need consumers much more than they need individual brands. They must be seen as being on the consumer’s side, not on the industry’s side. Most grocers stand with the food industry, and that doesn’t look good to shoppers. Mainstream groceries may not be hearing these consumer views very often, but that’s because they’re losing concerned customers’ business to PCC and other responsible retailers.

Follow Trudy Bialic's lead: Advocate for GMO labeling

Start writing. To put GMO labeling on your state and national representatives’ radars, launch a letter-writing campaign and invite shoppers to participate. PCC does this when pressing legislative issues arise and has gathered about 30,000 letters each time.

Voice customers’ wishes. Legislators listen to retailers, but many mainstream grocers stand by manufacturers in opposing GMO labeling. This makes it especially important for natural retailers to make their customers’ opinions known. “Retailers need to come out and admit that consumers want GMO labeling,” Bialic says.

Educate, educate, educate. PCC has been discussing GMOs in its monthly newspaper for 20 years. Use your newsletter and social media communications to give shoppers the facts on GMO labeling. Hold informational meetings and seminars as well.

About the Author(s)

Kelsey Blackwell

Senior Food Editor, Natural Foods Merchandiser

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