With polls showing dwindling support for Proposition 37 just days before the Nov. 6 election, Whole Foods Market is ramping up its support for the ballot measure, which seeks to require food manufacturers to label genetically modified food (or GMOs - genetically modified organisms).
Whole Foods Market Co-CEO Walter Robb appeared Thursday at the Mill Valley Whole Foods on Miller Avenue, the site of the grocery store he started in 1992 before working his way up the Whole Foods hierarchy, to show support for Prop. 37. Robb, who has a home in San Rafael, bought Jerry’s Meats and Deli in the Miller Ave. location and sold the market to the Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods in 1992.
Whole Foods officials formally announced the company's support for Prop. 37 in September. But as the election approaches, additional signage is going up at its stores and employees throughout the state have been trained on GMOs and the ballot measure, Robb said.
Robb told Patch that it’s unclear if Prop. 37’s passage would create a financial burden for Whole Foods, but nevertheless he said the company is “enthusiastically” supporting it because the company's major priorities include “transparency” and “customers’ right to know.”
That issue - the alleged cost of labeling foods containing genetically altered ingredients and manufacturers passing on those costs to consumers - has been a central argument by 37's opponents. Food giants like Monsanto, DuPoint, PepsiCo, General Mills and Kellogg have raised $44 million for No on Prop. 37 to pay for TV advertising making that case, while the Yes on 37 campaign has raised roughly $7 million, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Despite the uphill fundraising battle, Whole Foods has been working in partnership with the Yes on 37 campaign and helped start the Non GMO Project, Robb said.
He said Whole Foods carries 5,000 products that are verified by the Non-GMO Project and encourages other food makers to get verified. The USDA National Organic Standards also prohibit the use of GMOs, Robb said, meaning the company’s 365 Everyday Value organic products and other organic items are also GMO free. For Non-GMO month in October, Whole Foods had a three-day sale on Non-GMO Project verified items.
Prop. 37 will require manufacturers to spend some cash to change their labels, but Robb argued they won’t have to make the modification until 2014, which should provide plenty of time to adjust and may come at a time when they would already update labels.
Some have questioned the claim of increased costs. An analysis by the LA Times' opinion staff concluded that the labeling wouldn’t result in significant increases in food costs. “After all, food companies regularly change their labels in one way or another," the Times said.
Whole Foods has put the bulk of its Yes on 37 efforts into social media and also has some radio ads that will become more prevalent in the days before the election.
To date, it hasn't been enough to sway public opinion. A recent poll by the California Business Roundtable and Pepperdine University School of Public Policy revealed 39.1 percent of likely California voters support the Prop. 37, according to the LA Times. The poll also found that 50.5 percent oppose the labeling and 10.5 percent are undecided.
GMOs are created by gene splicing techniques. Opponents argue it creates unstable combinations of plant, animal, bacterial and viral genes. GMO labeling is mandatory is almost 50 countries in the world.
According to the nonprofit Non GMO Project, “high-risk crops” that are .
MANY IN MARIN SHOW SUPPORT FOR PROP. 37
Prop. 37 will create a national standard for Non-GMO products, said Robb, who isn’t the only Marin grocery leader to take a stance supporting Prop. 37.
Mark Squire, owner of Fairfax’s Good Earth Natural Foods, had a heavy hand in the creation of the Non-GMO Project and sits on its board.
“I’ve been kind of a foodie activist my whole life. This is a huge opportunity for the people to take the power back from these corporations,” Squire told the San Anselmo Town Council recently. “It’s a law that just requires them to put it on a label. I think they feel very threatened because they know people won’t want to eat it if they know what they are eating.”
Fairfax’s Good Earth Natural Foods also participated in non-GMO month, with specials, shelf tags, displays and educational materials to help shoppers identify Non-GMO Project verified options.
Support for Prop. 37 appears strong in Ross Valley, as Yes on 37 signs are in no short supply and local groups, including Sustainable Fairfax and San Anselmo’s Quality of Life Commission have endorsed Prop. 37.
The Fairfax Town Council audience erupted into applause and cheers Aug. 1 after the council adopted a resolution in support of Prop. 37.
The San Anselmo council didn’t take a stance on Prop. 37 because they have an agreement to not make political endorsements.
Genetically modified food is created by “the introduction of foreign genes in a violent way into other species,” Squire told the San Anselmo council at its Oct. 9 meeting. “There is a lot of misinformation going around that somehow it’s the same kind of technology we’ve been doing for centuries.”
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