Seattle Times: Bellingham grocer labels likely GMO products

Melissa Allison of the Seattle Times reports:

BELLINGHAM — Before Stephen Trinkaus slapped “GMO Alert!” labels on dozens of products in his Bellingham grocery store, he asked customers what they wanted.

The choices were: do nothing, label products that contain genetically modified ingredients (GMO means genetically modified organisms) or get rid of the items altogether.

Customers overwhelmingly chose labels, which began appearing on Terra Organica’s shelves in March.

Trinkaus’ customers made their decision ahead of Washington voters, who are likely to decide this fall whether they want food companies to label products with genetically modified ingredients. That could change if the Legislature takes action on Initiative 522 in a special session, but it is not expected to.

 Stephen Trinkaus, owner of Bellingham’s Terra Organica grocery store, has been known to occasionally wear the “Ge-No” superhero uniform around the store. At customers’ requests he is labeling whether his products are genetically modified.

Labeling supporters say GMOs raise health and environmental concerns because many are designed to withstand weed-killing herbicides. They also say not enough research has been made public about the plants.

Labeling opponents say such crops can boost the food supply and that genetic modification has taken place for centuries in the form of grafting trees and selecting crops for certain traits.

The GMO labeling issue is heating up nationally as well.

Washington is among more than 20 states with GMO labeling efforts under way after the rejection of a labeling proposition by California voters last year.

A nationwide labeling bill was introduced in Congress last week by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore.

Executives from big biotechnology developers Monsanto, DuPont and Dow Chemical told Reutersthey plan to fight back with a campaign to stem growing consumer concerns about GMOs.

The biotech industry and other labeling opponentsspent $44 million to defeat the labeling proposition in California, more than four times what supporters spent.

In Washington, where the campaign is in its early stages, labeling supporters say they have raised more than $1 million so far, compared with about $1,000 for labeling opponents.

Meanwhile, some retailers are choosing voluntary GMO bans and labels.

In March, Whole Foods Market announced its suppliers have until 2018 to label products that contain genetically modified ingredients. Trader Joe’s says it does not allow GMO ingredients in its private-label products, and some smaller grocers have begun eliminating or labeling GMO products as well.

“I thought it would be simpler than it is,” said Trinkaus, who is revamping Terra Organica’s labels to display more complex information.

He wants customers to know, for example, if a manufacturer is working to replace genetically modified ingredients with non-GMO alternatives — and many are after Whole Foods’ announcement.

Read the entire article here.