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For Trader Joe's, No GMOs

November 15, 2001|MELINDA FULMER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bowing to pressure from its customers, grocery chain Trader Joe's has agreed to ban genetically modified ingredients from its thousands of private-label products.

Monrovia-based Trader Joe's is not the first large chain to ban genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, from its products. Natural foods chains Whole Foods Market Inc. of Austin, Texas, and Wild Oats Markets of Boulder, Colo., dropped GMOs from their house-brand products two years ago.

Activist group Greenpeace had been pressuring Trader Joe's to drop GMOs for about a year, holding demonstrations outside stores.

"What we hear from our customers is they would prefer to have [their food] made without genetically engineered ingredients," company spokeswoman Pat St. John said.

Trader Joe's said it had been considering dropping GMOs for some time, especially after last year's StarLink corn debacle, when an unapproved genetically engineered corn made its way into the food supply. However, St. John said, the company wanted to be sure there were adequate guidelines, tests and supplies in place before it made an announcement.

Unlike mainstream supermarkets, Trader Joe's private-label products make up about 70% of its selections on any given day.

The conversion to non-GMO ingredients could take as long as a year, St. John said. The company does not plan to use any special labels, at least not in the near term. Organic food industry officials say Trader Joe's may be reluctant to do this because they are afraid of making a false label claim if these products do test positive for at least some amount of GMOs.

Greenpeace activists and the natural foods industry hope this will set a precedent for other food retailers. "With Trader Joe's getting rid of gene-altered ingredients, grocery chains in the U.S. can no longer say, 'We can't do it in this country,"' said Heather Whitehead, a Greenpeace campaigner.

Trader Joe's executives said that because many of their products are organic or come from Europe, the transition will be easier than for some other companies.

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