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GREENPEACE ADDS MOSTLY GMO-FREE ITEMS TO LIST

WASHINGTON -- Greenpeace, the international activist group, this month updated its "True Food Shopping List" with about 200 additional products that do not contain genetically modified ingredients.The original list was unveiled about a year ago and contains thousands of entries grouped into 20 categories. Greenpeace lists products that contain genetically modified ingredients on a red background,

WASHINGTON -- Greenpeace, the international activist group, this month updated its "True Food Shopping List" with about 200 additional products that do not contain genetically modified ingredients.

The original list was unveiled about a year ago and contains thousands of entries grouped into 20 categories. Greenpeace lists products that contain genetically modified ingredients on a red background, with GMO-free products on a green background.

Nearly all of this year's additions were to the green side of the list and only a handful were added to the red side, noted Kimberly Wilson, genetic engineering campaigner with Greenpeace. Citing Beech-Nut baby food as an example, she said, "We have seen movement from our red list to our green list. That means companies are eliminating genetically engineered ingredients due to consumer pressure."

The categories on the list are presented in such a way that consumers can use it for shopping in a supermarket, which "probably means that retailers are going to have to respond to more questions from consumers than they ever had to in the past," Wilson said.

For now, the updated list is available only at the Web site, www.truefoodnow.org, but a printed version should be ready by the beginning of 2002.

Greenpeace continues to pressure retailers like Trader Joe's, Monrovia, Calif., to eliminate genetically modified organisms from private-label products. Wilson noted that Whole Foods Markets, Austin, Texas, recently decided to phase out GMOs from its store brands with all products manufactured after Sept. 1, 2001. "They know their customers and they know that their customers don't want to eat GMOs and are choosing natural or organic food alternatives," Wilson said.

Retailers contacted by SN were mostly positive about the Greenpeace list, saying it fills an informational void for shoppers.

"For consumers who are concerned about such ingredients, the Greenpeace list could provide helpful information," said Jeff Lowrance, spokesman, Food Lion, Salisbury, N.C.

"The real challenge for retailers in regard to GMOs is that very often we don't have access to the information," said Joanne Gage, vice president, consumer and marketing services, Price Chopper Supermarkets, Schenectady, N.Y.

"We pride ourselves on being able to answer our customers' questions about the foods that they can purchase at our stores, but this is a tough one. We support the consumer's right to information, including information about genetically modified ingredients. Having access to this information can only help us to do our jobs."

However, it is not the retailer's place to make decisions for consumers on such matters, Gage said. "We encourage manufacturers to inform retailers and consumers as to the use of GMOs."

But, she pointed out, "At this point, consumers have expressed little interest in GMOs."

Bea James, whole health manager, Lunds Food Holdings, Edina, Minn., agreed that consumers have a right to know about product ingredients. "The consumers that are concerned are the people that are looking for organic and natural products, and we carry those. And the consumers that don't really have issue with it aren't necessarily looking at this list and they are comfortable with purchasing those items that are on the GMO list," she said.

Lunds carries almost all of the items found on the non-genetically engineered side of the list in its Living Wise section, James said. "If consumers want to come in and make sure they are consuming products that do not contain GMOs, we've got those. So we would welcome the list either way. It's not a problem. The consumer has the right to know," she said.

The attitude at Shaw's Supermarkets, West Bridgewater, Mass., toward Greenpeace and other such groups is much different. Because Shaw's parent company, Great Britain's Sainsbury's, has taken a stance against genetically modified ingredients in private-label products, these groups have made Shaw's a target for their protests and some have been very disruptive, noted spokesman Bernie Rogan.

"Our response is, we live in a different society. This is not the U.K. This is the United States," he said. Unlike the U.K., government agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have looked into the matter and found no reason for alarm, he said. "We continue to rely upon the federal agencies to provide direction in this matter."

Rogan and other retailers deferred to the Food Marketing Institute, Washington, for comment on the list. However, when contacted, an official directed SN to a backgrounder on FMI's Web site. In "Biotechnology and Food," FMI said, "The grocery industry believes that it is the role of the federal government to establish and enforce standards that ensure the safety of our nation's food supply. FMI supports FDA's labeling policy -- that appropriate labels should be required if genetic engineering significantly changes the structure or nutritional makeup of the food or if it introduces allergens."

The Grocery Manufacturers of America, Washington, however, was ready and willing to comment on the Greenpeace list.

"This extensive list of products just shows how common and how safe biotech food products really are," said Peter Cleary, manager of public policy communications at GMA. "The foods displayed on these lists that Greenpeace publishes have been safely consumed for almost a decade without any health problems whatsoever."

The FDA and the USDA have repeatedly said there is no difference between food derived through biotechnology and those developed from more conventional means, such as cross breeding, Cleary said.

"Polls are clearly showing that consumers want more information about biotechnology. But this list really does prove our point and not Greenpeace's. From GMA's perspective, a list of this kind does nothing more than show how safe these products are," he said.

Wilson of Greenpeace said the FDA has been slow to deal with the issue of labeling for GMOs. Other countries, such as Japan, Mexico and Australia, have acted, she said. "Yet here in the United States, consumers have no choice," she said.

Greenpeace has been critical of Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich., for continuing to use genetically modified ingredients in this country, Wilson said. But meanwhile, manufacturers like Kellogg's have acquired companies in the natural foods industry, she said.

"A lot of these larger companies are starting to recognize that they are going to lose market share to natural and organic food companies and have now even started to acquire some of those in order to be part of that growth industry. That shows me that it's just a matter of time before these companies also have to make a move toward natural ingredients and to phase out GMOs," she said.