Wegmans takes a stance on genetically modified food

Apr 21, 2014

Upstate New York grocery store chain Wegmans has come out and said federal food regulators should develop standards and labeling practices for foods that contain genetically modified ingredients.

Wegmans vice president for consumer affairs Mary Ellen Burris wrote in a blog that Wegmans has been looking into genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, for about two years. She says they're receiving an increasing number of questions from customers on the matter - a thousand in the past year.

Common GMO food crops are corn, soy, canola and sugar beets. GMO means the seeds have been scientifically altered to produce higher crop yields, or be more resistant to drought and disease.

It's a controversial practice. Some see it as the future of food sustainability and a solution to global hunger. Others worry about food safety.

"It's a complex issue," Wegmans nutritionist Jane Andrews said in an interview, and the store is trying to better educate its customers.

"Many people assume GMOs are in the produce department," she explained. "They’re not, with a couple of exceptions. GMOs are fed to animals that produce our meats, eggs, poultry, seafood. Or it’s commodity crops that go into processed foods."

Currently, she said, there's no way to tell if even minor ingredients are genetically modified.

"It all involves a paper trail of documentation, but those standards need to be written about what would count as a GMO and what wouldn’t," Andrews said.

Until the Food and Drug Administration comes up with a standard for GMO and proper labeling, Andrews said, certified organic products are where to look for non-GMO ingredients.

Andrews said Wegmans won’t start labeling their food because there’s no federal standard. And she said the company only inquires about GMO use in store name brands if there are questions from consumers.

Wegmans has placed a lengthy explanation of its position and background on its website.