A bill now in the House would mandate that biotech food products be labeled with GMO labels. When it comes to labeling food products as GMO products, farm groups and the nation’s largest grocery chain oppose the concept. Rob Kaplin, with Wal-Mart, says there are currently too many labels on food products which delivers a mixed message to consumers, “Currently there is a proliferation of eco or trust labels out there that are delivering a confusing message to consumers.” He says Wal-Mart wants to be careful about what labels it allows on its products to provide accurate information to consumers while not increasing costs, “We have to decide what are the right labels on the right products.”
Kaplin told the Ag Issues Forum held in advance of Commodity Classic in Orlando that biotechnology is not the top of mind issue for the average Wal-Mart customer, “By far, the number one issue for our customers when they walk in the door is everyday low price. The reason they shop at our store is so they can put food on their table for less money.” But he told HAT this does not mean Wal-Mart shoppers don’t care about other food issues, “Sustainability is an important issue, and we want to provide shoppers with the best choices possible.” He said the average Wal-Mart shopper takes about 3 seconds to make a decision on which product to buy.
While some special interest groups are putting pressure on retailers to ban certain food products or practices, Kaplin, who directs Wal-Mart’s sustainability program, says customer choice is a guiding principle of the Wal-Mart policy, “We don’t pick winners and losers, but we want to give customers the best choices possible.” He said if a product sells, everyone benefits.
Kaplin, who appeared on the program with Rick Tolman who is the CEO of the National Corn Growers Association, said Wal-Mart wants to work with farm groups to give customers choice, but also work with farmers to keep retail food prices low. He said too often sustainability focuses on the negative aspect of a product or practice, not the positive. He added US farmers are producing foods sustainably and that message must be communicated to retailers. Tollman said farmers define sustainability as “Enhancing production today by using resources in a way that will insure food production for tomorrow.”
Kaplin said biotechnology represents technology that makes food production sustainable and efficient, and efficiency and low cost are important factors to Wal-Mart. Kaplin stopped short of denouncing GMO labels, but made it clear it is not a strategy that Wal-Mart favors.
Colorado Congressman Jared Polis has introduced a bill to mandate the labeling of food containing genetically modified organisms in all 50 states. “It’s important to empower people with information they need to make their own healthy choices,” he said. “People have the right to make consumer decisions based on accurate transparency in labeling, and knowledge is power.” Polis serves on House schools and rules committees, but was just named parliamentarian for the minority party whip organization, which gives him a toe-hold in leadership.