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Polling consistently demonstrates a very high level of support for GMO labeling, including a July 2013 New York Times poll that found that 93% of Americans polled favored labeling. Due partly to public—and customer—opinion, some companies have chosen to move faster than regulators and voluntarily provide consumers with information about the presence of GMOs in their food products. Safeway has not yet provided this information.
“Transparency is absolutely critical for earning and maintaining consumer trust, particularly when it comes to issues like food quality and safety,” noted Lucia von Reusner, shareholder advocate for Green Century Capital Management. “Shareholders have reason to be concerned if Safeway is unwilling to provide the transparent food labeling called for by over 90% of U.S. consumers.”
U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) has pushed Safeway and other grocers to follow the lead of Whole Foods, which committed to labeling GMOs in all in-store products by 2018. U.S. PIRG will present Safeway with 130,000 signatures collected throughout the country urging the grocer to label GMOs.
“Consumers want to know whether the food they eat contains GMOs,” said Steve Blackledge, Deputy Director for U.S. PIRG. “Safeway can get on the right side of their customer base by committing to a simple label. And the added bonus is they can keep up with some of their competitors.”
Genetically modified organisms, whose genes have been artificially altered to create entirely new organisms not normally found in nature, are not required to undergo any safety testing by U.S. regulatory agencies. Lack of scientific consensus around the long-term risks to public and environmental health from GMOs has prompted public demand for more transparency around the presence of GMOs in food. The shareholder proposal contends that until and unless long-term safety testing demonstrates that GMOs are not harmful to humans or the environment, the company should voluntarily label products that contain these ingredients.
Public pressure on companies to provide GMO labeling information has risen to unprecedented levels in recent years, as has regulatory pressure. Over the past year, bills or ballot initiatives that would require companies to label foods that contain GMOs have been introduced in over 20 states, and recently approved in Connecticut, Maine, and Vermont. Additionally, a November ballot measure on labeling will be decided in Oregon by voters.
Companies that include Whole Foods, Chipotle, and Ben & Jerry’s have adopted policies to voluntarily disclose the presence of GMOs in products. Trader Joe’s claims not to source any GMO ingredients. Through its Health & Wellness private brand portfolio, Safeway is working to position itself competitively among consumers interested in all-natural and organic products, and has faced pressure from consumers to label products that contain GMOs.
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Green Century Capital Management is a financial advisory firm that manages a family of fossil fuel free mutual funds. Founded in 1991 by a network of non-profit organizations, the state Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs), Green Century leads an effective shareholder advocacy program to convince companies to establish and implement environmental policies that protect our land, water and air.
U.S. PIRG is a federation of state-based advocacy groups that stand up to powerful interests on behalf of consumers and the public. For more information visit www.pirg.org.
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