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
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
"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
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.
Food Traceability Gaining
The Huffington Post
ConAgra Foods Acquires Frozen
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
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
"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.
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
LA Times / OM