Top Natural Foods Industry Leaders Say California's Prop 37 GMO Labeling Bid Won't Raise Food Prices
Oakland, Calif. – Executives of Whole Foods Market and other top natural and organic food companies held a conference call with reporters yesterday to support California’s Proposition 37, a ballot initiative that calls for labeling foods with genetically engineered ingredients.
The industry leaders said they wanted to set the record straight and debunk false claims that have been dominating the California airwaves and editorial pages in recent weeks.
“I’m not doing this for our bottom line,” said Jim Someck, chief executive officer of Jimbo’s…Naturally, a leading San Diego natural foods company, “but for my kids and kids all over the world. Our consumers demand transparency and the right to know.”
Someck and other leaders in the organic and natural industry denied that they would profit if Prop 37 passes, as opponents of the ballot measure claim. And they insisted that consumers’ food cost would not rise as a result.
“From a financial perspective, we are shooting ourselves in the foot,” said Andy Berliner, CEO of Amy’s Kitchen in Petaluma, Calif. “We are helping other companies create a better market share. People will have lots of choices, increasing our competition. For all of our companies, this is a core values issue.”
“In Europe, food costs have not gone up as a result” of GMO labeling, Berliner said. “Dairy, for example, is cheaper than in the U.S. even though cows are not fed GE foods. Coke, Pepsi, Heinz are all selling in Europe with very competitive prices [compared to those in] the U.S.”
“Only in America can you consume genetically engineered foods without knowing it,” he added.
“As a business person, I don't see any evidence of additional costs in our food system,” said Michael Funk, CEO and co-founder of United Natural Foods Inc., a $6 billion company with its West coast headquarters in Rocklin, CA, 27 distribution centers around the country and 27,000 customer locations. “This will not increase our distribution costs.”
A similar argument about costs was made before California passed the nation’s first law to label organic foods. The federal government followed suit with national organics standards.
“Once there were uniform organic standards across the U.S., the cost of organics came down,” said David Lannon, Whole Foods Market executive vice president for operations. “The more [non-genetically engineered] crops that are planted and sold, the cost goes down for everyone.”
Lannon added that he hoped the California labeling law would spur a unified national GMO labeling standard.
Industry leaders on the call dismissed the idea, often suggested by the measure’s opponents, that Prop 37 would lead to regulation of non-GMO foods.
Steven Hoffman, managing partner at Compass Natural Marketing, explained, “If you are using GMO ingredients in your products, you can’t call them natural, period. ” Non-GMO foods are not affected by the proposed law, he said, offering a legal analysis to back up his interpretation of the law.
Proponents of Prop 37 have pointed out that big chemical and pesticide companies like Monsanto and Dow are spending more than $1 million a day on ads to defeat the ballot initiative because their bottom lines are in danger.
“If many of the farmers who are now growing GE crops switch back to regular crops which require less pesticides, it will affect the profitability and sales of pesticides but won’t affect food costs,” said Berliner. “Yet it will mean that less pesticides are being sprayed into our air, water and land.”
“The federal system for approving GMO crops is woefully inadequate for health and safety testing,” said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group who organized the call with reporters. “The least you can do is label GE foods so folks will know what is in their food.”
On November 6, Californians must again lead the nation and vote “yes” on Proposition 37, “for the people, for the good earth and for future generations,” said Arran Stephens, CEO of Nature’s Path.