From the time we opened our first store – Pearl Street Market – in 1979, and then our first Alfalfa’s at the corner of Broadway and Arapahoe in 1983, we have always been a company with a strong social mission. Alfalfa’s is a company that stands for what we believe in, and we aren’t afraid to let our opinions be known.
That is why we have taken a very public stand against the planting of GMOs on Boulder County Open Space. Personally, I entered the natural and organic foods movement in the 1960s because the environmental impact of conventional agriculture was causing substantial detriment to our planet – and it still is. The pervasive nature of GMOs means that neighboring crops are at risk when GMOs are planted nearby. As a long-time proponent of organic agriculture, and an avid organic gardener myself, I don’t want to see our organic farmers at risk for GMO contamination.
For those of you familiar with organic agricultural production standards, GMOs are not allowed in organic production. Therefore, organic is currently the best choice for consumers who want to avoid GMOs.
For non-organic products, there are several third-party verification programs that can assure a product was produced without GMO ingredients. At Alfalfas, we give the highest priority to organic products first, and then will accept products that make a no-GMO claim as long as they are certified by one of these third-party verifiers.
The Organic Trade Association (OTA), the trade group for the organic industry, has recently adopted a position that calls for a moratorium on the planting of GMOs until further research can be done. To learn more about OTA’s position, visit http://www.ota.com/pp/regulatory/OTA-Position-on-GMOs.html.
We wish we could say that our work stops here, and that consumers can rest assured that the products they purchase from Alfalfa’s were all produced without GMOs. Unfortunately, as a retailer, the situation with GMOs is not so black and white. At Alfalfa’s our long-term goal is to be a store that does not sell any products that were made with GMO ingredients. This, however, is an aspirational goal due to the pervasive nature of certain GMO crops, like corn, soy and sugar beets. These are common ingredients in many manufactured food products, and corn and soy are common in livestock feed, affecting our ability to source non-GMO meat and dairy products.
In fact, 93% of all soy, 86% of all corn and 95% of all sugar beets grown in the U.S. come from GMO seed. That leaves food manufacturers very little choice when seeking clean ingredients for their product formulations. As such, at Alfalfa’s, we must balance our consumers’ desires for product choices at prices they can afford with our desire to replace any and all products made with GMOs.
We are taking a two-step approach to reaching our long-term goal of being a GMO-free zone at Alfalfa’s. First, we buy organics whenever available, and organics are made without GMOs. In fact, we are an organic certified store by Oregon Tilth and we are a member of the OTA, which demonstrates our commitment to organics. Our produce department has been running about 95% to 97% organic since we opened our doors, our salad bar is close to 95% organic, our juice bar is 100% organic and the only fluid milk we offer is organic. So, we are off to a good start with these departments and with our efforts to remove GMOs from our store.
The second step toward reaching our goal is to review all the non-organic products in our store and determine which ones may contain GMO ingredients. Our buyers are currently reaching out to manufacturers to make this determination. If a product manufacturer cannot provide proof of third-party verification that their products are made without GMOs, we will request that they reformulate. If they are unwilling to reformulate, we will begin the search for a comparable product that does not contain GMO ingredients. Even though organic meat is still a tiny part of the overall meat industry, we are starting to identify producers who are using non-GMO feedstuffs in their livestock production. Once our product vendors can provide verification their products were made without GMO ingredients, we will post signage throughout our store to identify the non-GMO products in our store, allowing our consumers to make an educated choice. We feel it is part of our commitment to you, our customers, to be fully transparent about our products until we can find other alternatives.
Alfalfa’s was always known as a place where consumers didn’t have to read the labels because they knew that our buyers were hard at work sourcing the highest quality, all-natural products available that met a set of meaningful standards. We still hold this as an important part of our commitment to the Boulder community.
We will continue to educate our staff and consumers about important food issues that affect our community. We urge our Commissioners to vote NO for GMOs on Open Space, and we encourage our consumers and supporters to have your voices heard before it is too late. Learn how here.
You can find out more about what is happening nationally with GMO labeling by visiting the GMO Right 2 Know March website and by going to Just Label It to let the FDA know you want GMO ingredients labeled on food products marketed in the U.S. Alfalfa’s is a partner in these important initiatives, and we urge you to have your voices heard so that our government officials can understand consumers’ concerns about GMOs infiltrating our food supply.
Mark Retzloff, co-founder and CEO, Alfalfa’s