Learning from the label

Durango’s local co-op is informing customers about genetically modified food

Labels on shelves identify products that contain no GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

Labels on shelves identify products that contain no GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

Like it or not, genetically modified foods make up a big portion of the American diet. The Grocery Manufacturer’s Association estimates that genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, are used in 75 to 80 percent of conventional foods processed in the United States.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not require the labeling or tracking of such foods, so natural grocers and nonprofits across the country have decided to take up the cause themselves.

Durango Natural Foods Co-op has joined the movement with a new initiative to label products that are free of genetically engineered ingredients. It is starting the process now to celebrate October’s designation as national non-GMO month.

Two types of labels on the co-op’s shelves designate products that are certified GMO-free by the Non-GMO Project, an independent third-party certifier, and those that the store has verified through the manufacturer contain no GMO ingredients.

The idea is to make it easier for consumers to identify GMO-free products, because the vast majority aren’t labeled as such on the package, said Minna Jain, the marketing manager at Durango Natural Foods, 575 East Eighth Ave.

Normally, consumers would have to do the research or call manufacturers themselves if they wanted that information, Jain said. The process is easier for the store, because it is a member of the National Cooperative Growers Association, the Just Label It Campaign and the Non-GMO Project.

Without GMO labeling, the only way to know if products contain genetically engineered foods is if they are made with 100 percent USDA-certified organic ingredients, said Nancy Flynn, director of marketing at Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage.

The company doesn’t have an in-store labeling system like Durango Natural Foods, but has been advocating to keep food natural for more than 60 years through lobbying and support of citizen- awareness movements.

The buyers at Vitamin Cottage, which owns a store at 1123 Camino del Rio, puts a concerted effort into buying from manufacturers that offer clean foods, and the company mandates that every product approved for sale must disclose sources of potential GMO contamination, Flynn said. But even so, she estimated that more than 50 percent of products Vitamin Cottage sells contain GMOs. At a regular supermarket, that number would be closer to 100 percent, she said.

The non-GMO movement is gaining momentum though, and many manufacturers have started to label their GMO-free products, said Libby Storc, the grocery manager at Nature’s Oasis, 300 South Camino del Rio.

The grocer prefers buying GMO-free products but isn’t embarking on any independent initiatives to label non-GMO products because the process of certifying that claim is an overwhelming amount of work for a small store, Storc said.

“It’s a huge job for us to chase down where corn came from and how it is handled in every bag of chips and every box of cereal,” she said. “We are letting the bigger guys in the industry take it on before we step into it.”

In the end, the push for GMO-free ingredients needs to come from the consumer, Flynn said.

“Large retailers, producers and manufacturers are watching consumer demands for non-GMO foods. If you don’t buy them, they won’t grow them,” she said.

ecowan@durangoherald.com

Durango Natural Foods is recognizing October as national non-GMO month by placing labels on shelves that identify non-GMO products. That’s what Joshua Jackson, general manager, and Nicole Guck, grocery and operations manager, are doing Tuesday. Enlarge photo

JERRY McBRIDE/Durango Herald

Durango Natural Foods is recognizing October as national non-GMO month by placing labels on shelves that identify non-GMO products. That’s what Joshua Jackson, general manager, and Nicole Guck, grocery and operations manager, are doing Tuesday.