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USDA Develops New GMO-Free Certification & Label


ConAgra Foods Acquires Frozen Food Company


Whole Foods Market Plans New Lower-Cost Chain




USDA Develops New GMO-Free Certification & Label

The U.S. Agriculture Department has developed a new government certification and labeling for foods that are free of genetically modified ingredients.

USDA's move comes as some consumer groups push for mandatory labeling of the genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

The certification is the first of its kind and would be voluntary — and companies would have to pay for it. If approved, the foods would be able to carry a "USDA Process Verified" label along with a claim that they are free of GMOs.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack outlined the department's plan in a May 1 letter to employees, saying the certification was being done at the request of a "leading global company," which he did not identify. A copy of the letter was obtained by The Associated Press.

Right now, there are no government labels that only certify a food as GMO-free. Many companies use a private label developed by a nonprofit called the Non-GMO Project. The USDA organic label also certifies that foods are free of genetically modified ingredients, but many non-GMO foods aren't organic.

Vilsack said the USDA certification is being created through the department's Agriculture Marketing Service, which works with interested companies to certify the accuracy of the claims they are making on food packages — think "humanely raised" or "no antibiotics ever." Companies pay the Agricultural Marketing Service to verify a claim, and if approved, they can market the foods with the USDA process verified label.

"Recently, a leading global company asked AMS to help verify that the corn and soybeans it uses in its products are not genetically engineered so that the company could label the products as such," Vilsack wrote in the letter. "AMS worked with the company to develop testing and verification processes to verify the non-GE claim."

A USDA spokesman confirmed that Vilsack sent the letter but declined to comment on the certification program. Vilsack said in the letter that the certification "will be announced soon, and other companies are already lining up to take advantage of this service."

Genetically modified foods come from seeds that are originally engineered in laboratories to have certain traits, like resistance to herbicides. The majority of the U.S. corn and soybean crop is now genetically modified, with much of that going to animal feed. GMO corn and soybeans are also made into popular processed food ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup and soybean oil.

The government says GMOs on the market now are safe and that mandatory labels aren't needed. Consumer advocates pushing for mandatory labeling say shoppers still have a right to know what is in their food, arguing that not enough is known about the effects of the technology. They have supported several state efforts to require labeling, with the eventual goal of having a federal standard.

The USDA label is similar to what is proposed in a House bill introduced earlier this year that is designed to block those mandatory GMO labeling efforts around the country. The bill, introduced by Rep. Mike Pompeo, a Republican, provides for USDA certification but would not make it mandatory. The bill also would override any state laws that require the labeling.

The food industry, which backs Pompeo's bill, has strongly opposed individual state efforts to require labeling, saying labels would be misleading because GMOs are safe. Vermont became the first state to require the labeling in 2014, and that law will go into effect next year if it survives a legal challenge from the food industry.

A spokesman for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the major food industry trade group that challenged the Vermont law, said, "We are interested in this development and look forward to engaging with the department" on the labels.

Related Article: Food Traceability Gaining Popularity

Source: The Huffington Post




ConAgra Foods Acquires Frozen Food Company

ConAgra Foods has announced that it has acquired Blake's All Natural Foods, a family-owned company that makes natural and organic frozen meals.

Sean Connolly, ConAgra Foods' chief executive officer, said, "We are thrilled to have Blake's All Natural Foods join ConAgra Foods. Blake's is a great addition to our existing frozen meals business and provides more choices to a growing group of people buying natural and organic foods. ConAgra Foods will help Blake's grow and offer its wholesome food to more people across the country."

Blake's All Natural Foods makes arange of frozen foods that include pot pies, casseroles, and pasta dishes. ConAgra Foods has a broad portfolio of brands in the frozen foods aisle, including Alexia, Healthy Choice, Marie Callender's, Banquet®, Kid Cuisine®, Bertolli®, Odom's Tennessee Pride and P.F. Chang's.

"Blake's is really excited to join the ConAgra Foods team as it will allow us to build on the momentum we've created over several years and continue to meet the growing demand for our meals," said Chris Licata, president and chief executive officer of Blake's All Natural Foods. "Natural and organic food has clearly earned a place in American households, and we will continue to make the same meals that the Blake family has made for people over four generations."

Blake's All Natural Foods has approximately 60 employees based in Concord, N.H. Licata will continue to lead the Blake's business from its headquarters in Concord. Terms of this all-cash deal were not disclosed.


Source: News Release



Whole Foods Market Plans New Lower-Cost Chain

Whole Foods is gearing up to open a new, lower-cost chain of stores next year aimed at younger shoppers.

The new chain will cost less to operate, but be "hip, cool, and technology-oriented," said CEO John Mackey. The idea is to stock cheaper goods that will attract cost-conscious buyers, while maintaining the company's quality standards.

Whole Foods, a pioneer in high-end groceries, continues to open new stores every year. But the company -- which some refer to as "Whole Paycheck" -- has sought to diversify as more competitors pile into the market.

"We've been so successful that we've actually bred a lot more competition and everyone is jumping on the natural and organic food bandwagon, and that's really, frankly, due to our success," Mackey said. "You have to be willing to evolve with the marketplace ... to serve your customers."

Whole Foods is currently negotiating leases for the new stores, but Mackey declined to give the name and number of stores planned. He said the company would announce more details by early September.

The company announced quarterly earnings on Wednesday. Same-store sales grew by 3.6%, and overall sales jumped 10% to a record $3.6 billion. But investors were expecting better figures, sending the stock down by more than 11% in New York after-hours trading.

Whole Foods currently operates 417 stores and plans to open 23 new ones this year. The company said it expects sales growth this year of more than 9%, and same-store sales growth in the low to mid-single digits.

OM Comment
It will be interesting to see what this new low-cost natural food retailing outfit looks like. Trader Joe's is already successful with competitively priced products in its natural food shops. Unlike Whole Foods Market, Trader Joe's places greater emphasis on its private labels. Other supermarkets, including Safeway and Target, are also expanding their private label ranges.

The role of private labels in the sustainable foods industry are featured in the Sustainable Foods Summit.
The European edition will be hosted in Amsterdam on 4-5 June. In 2016, the summit will also take place in North & Latin America. More details are on the website

Source: LA Times / OM













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