Right to Know Grocers

NEW! – Going GMO-Free: A Toolkit for Grocers  http://oca-orca.org/grocers-toolkit/


How your food co-op or local grocer can help us reclaim our right to know what’s in your food

Prepared by Martin Dagoberto, member/owner of Franklin Community Co-op and co-founder of Massachusetts Right to Know GMOs


The GMO labeling issue has taken the country by storm. More than half of the states are considering mandatory labeling. Polls conducted by professional news organizations including the Washington Post, MSNBC and Reuters/NPR consistently show that over 90% of consumers want GM ingredients labeled.  While the chemical manufacturers and junk food producers continue to spend millions of dollars attacking state and federal efforts to institute mandatory labeling, food co-ops and locally-owned grocery stores provide an opportunity for meaningful progress on this issue. Since food co-ops are owned by their customers, they provide an ideal venue for consumers to take local action, to educate each other, and to reclaim their right to know what they are consuming.  

Here are some ways that food co-ops and local grocery stores can be a big part of the movement to increase awareness and help people avoid genetically modified foods.  These ideas have been implemented by many co-ops, and were generated by those listed at the bottom of this document.

1.  Issue a policy statement on GMOs listing the known problems, and announcing support for state and national GMO labeling laws.  The statement could also include support for a ban on the use of GMOs in food production, offer support for companies and farmers who refuse to use GMO products and state a commitment to membership education, and a “global moratorium on growing crops from genetically modified seed until this experiment has been proven safe for the environment and people”  (Inspired by Olympia Food Co-op, Olympia WA)

2.  Provide educational materials: in their newsletters, on their website and in their stores with signage and handouts: food co-ops can make available copies of fact sheets, articles, brochures and the Non-GMO Shopping Guide.

3.  Host educational events, such as community screenings and discussions of the award-winning documentary “Genetic Roulette: the Gamble of our Lives.”

4.  Become a member of the National Cooperative Grocer’s Association:  THe NCGA works with many organizations on behalf of all food co-ops to label GMOs and to fight the deregulation of GMOs at the regulatory and legal level. NCGA is a founding member of the National Organic Coalition and partner in the Just Label It campaign, which calls for mandatory labeling of GMOs.

NGP-Seal-Revised-Draft-for-FSIS5. Become a “Supporting Retailer” member of the Non-GMO Verification Project, a third party non-profit Non-GMO product verification organization.  The project’s verification practices include ongoing testing of all ingredients at risk of contamination, an action threshold of 0.9% (any product containing over 0.9% will not receive Non-GMO status), traceability and segregation practices and annual audits. They provide a suite of tools and resources for retailers.  See http://www.nongmoproject.org/take-action/action-for-retailers/supporting-retailer-program/ for details on retailer membership

6.  Create shelf tags that will indicate what products contain “at-risk” ingredients (likely GMO) and provide shoppers with the educational resources needed to make their own purchase decisions.

7.  Send letters to the co-op’s food manufacturers asking them to verify the non-GMO status of their products, asking for more non-GMO products, etc. Ask them to swear on their letterhead that their product is GE-free. (Prodding manufacturers about GMOs also motivates them to source non-GMO ingredients.)

8.  Create a GMO labeling committee to increase member participation and take the burden of co-op staff, help with labeling research and education.

9.  Support the Just Label It! Campaign by signing on as a partner and sharing action alerts with the membership.

10.  Support state-level campaigns for mandatory labeling of GM foods: connect with campaign organizers to share action alerts and volunteer opportunities. CitizensForGMOLabeling.org

11.  Prioritize the purchase of high quality organic and local products, allowing customers a wide selection of GMO-free foods to choose from.

12. Offer non-GMO options at the take-out/deli. (They might need some help in distinguishing at-risk ingredients!)



Examples of Food Co-ops and Grocers that are taking action on GMOs:
(Growing national list, by no means comprehensive.  Please email us with any we should add! MAR2KGMOs[at]gmail.com)

Cummington Creamery Co-op, Cummington, MA
A new co-op (but an old creamery) in Western MA is a strong supporter of local efforts for GMO labeling, and has been working to eliminate GMO ingredients from their deli.

Berkshire Organics, Dalton, MA
An organic food delivery service and market, they have painstakingly eliminated GMOs from their offerings, and have been awarded the “Top Right to Know Grocer Award” from Organic Consumers Association (September 2013).

“Berkshire Organics is passionately committed to carrying GMO free products. We have removed the vast majority of products containing GMOs from our shelves and all potentially new additions to our inventory are rigorously screened. The relatively few items we carry that do have possible GMO ingredients are labeled as such on our store shelves and on our website.” 

Willimantic Food Co-op, Willimantic, CT

During Connecticut’s legislative session, they held educational events, passed out information to their members, and forwarded on our action alerts as they came out. After the session, a press conference was held at the Coop with the Senate President to celebrate the victory in Connecticut.
Olympia Food Co-op, Olympia, WA
A clear leader in co-op GMO activism.  They are engaging in most/all of the action strategies listed above.

City Market Onion River Co-op, Burlington, VT

Park Slope Food Co-op, Brooklyn, NY

Eat Good Food Co-op, Bozeman, MT

Brattleboro Food Co-op, Brattleboro, VT
“At the Brattleboro Food Co-op, a 2,500-member natural food co-op based in Vermont, customers can identify non-GMO foods by a yellow label that says either “Non-GMO” or “Organic = Non-GMO.”

North Coast Co-op, in Arcata, Calif
North Coast places small green labels on items that are certified 100 percent organic.

Big Carrot, Toronto, Ontario
Instead of labeling products as non-GMO, the store removed all products suspected of containing GM ingredients.

Ukiah Food Co-op, Ukiah, CA
Non-GMO Project Verified Shelf labels

Port Townsend Food Co-op, Port Townsend, WA
video explaining what they did: http://youtu.be/NBqghJVEk-A
Non-GMO Project Verified Shelf labels, signage at the front of the store

Rainbow Co-op Organic Food, Jackson, MS
Storewide purchasing policy includes “No GMOs.”  The co-op hosts educational events to support consumer purchasing power as a primary mode of action.  

Cliff’s Country Market, Caldwell, ID
Storewide labeling of non-GMO and at-risk ingredients, in store education.


Seward Community Co-op, Minneapolis, MN

Mississippi Market, St. Paul, MN




GMO Co-op Policy Statements, examples:

Cummington Creamery Co-op, Cummington, MA

Old Creamery Co-op GMO Policy:
Consistent with our belief that consumers have the right to make informed choices about the food we buy, our Co-op strongly and publicly supports the mandatory labeling of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in the food supply.
Also known as Genetic Engineering, the laboratory process of injecting genes of one species into the genes of another has come to permeate mainstream agriculture over the past two decades, yet there exist no conclusive long-term studies on the health, environmental, and economic impacts of this new technology.

We believe that our communities have the right to choose what we are feeding ourselves and our families, and to know what those products are and where they come from. We want to give our customers the opportunity to make the most informed choices about the food they purchase, not to take that choice away from them, or make that decision for them.

Our community market will continue to offer a diverse selection of products at affordable prices, and we are committed to an expanding selection of high-quality products that include labeled GMO-free options, as well as locally grown, sustainably farmed, and organic choices.


North Coast Co-op, Arcata, CA

GMO Statement
The North Coast Cooperative recognizes both the potential health and environmental hazards associated with Genetically Engineered (GE) foods and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) in our food chain. A Genetically Modified Organism is an organism whose genetic characteristics have been altered by the insertion of a modified gene or a gene from another organism using the techniques of genetic engineering (1). Working outside of the confines of natural possibilities, these alterations leave a risk of unknown consequences to the ecosystem and public health.
The North Coast Cooperative believes that at this time the best way to avoid GE and GMO products is to consume only certified organic food. We call upon regulatory agencies to support thorough testing and strict labeling standards for GMO products. Education and information regarding food safety is a responsibility the North Coast Cooperative accepts and embraces. There are resources available throughout the store, as well as on our web site to stay informed regarding controversial technologies and practices.



Eat Good Food Co-op, Bozeman, MT

Co-op GMO Policy

Your Co-op supports the mandatory labeling of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) by manufacturers. We believe that consumers should have the right to know what they are feeding themselves and their families. We want to give our customers the opportunity to make an educated choice about the things they purchase, not make that decision for them.
The more we support GMO labeling, the more we promote the integrity of the organic label and help businesses that are doing the right things remain competitive and viable in the marketplace. Purchasing certified organic food is the best way to ensure that a product is free of GMOs.
While we support GMO labeling, we are not a GMO-free store. The prominence ofGMOs in our nation’s food supply is extremely high. Most non-organic soy and corn in the U.S. contain GMOs. Non-organic dairy products are likely to have rBGH.
Removing all GMO products is not a viable business model. It would deplete our shelves and prices would increase significantly. We will continue to support local agriculture and small businesses who share our vision of sustainable practices and growing methods, even if they are not certified organic. We will also continue to offer our customers a wide selection of products at affordable prices.
The system is certainly not perfect, however, we hope you will support those companies and products that you believe in.
Your Co-op will:
Continue to prioritize the purchase of high quality organic and local products, allowing our customers a wide selection of GMO-free foods to choose from.

Continue to support organizations and legislation that promotes the labeling ofGMOs by food manufacturers and supports the integrity of organics.

Continue to monitor and support the integrity of organic certification in the future;GMOs should never have a place in organics and we’ll support any measure that maintains that standard.

Continue to be transparent with signage in our store, allowing our customers to make their own educated choices between organic, local, sustainable and nothing-added products (See Farm to Market).

For more shopping tips, read Five Ways To Avoid GMOs.


Olympia Food Co-Op, Olympia WA
Statement regarding Genetically Modified Foods
The Olympia Food Co-op strives to make good, healthy food accessible to all people. Our mission includes making human effects on the earth and its inhabitants positive and renewing, and to encourage economic and social justice. Therefore, we do not support the increasing use of genetically altered material in food production.

Our main concerns are that:
1) Genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) are untested for effects on humans and our environment.

2) The use of GMO’s concentrates control of seed production and economic power in a few multinational corporations. A number of these companies have developed their seeds to be used with their own pesticides and herbicides. This can lead to an increase in the use of these chemicals.

3) Because of cross-pollination, many good hybrid and heirloom varieties of crops and their seeds may be contaminated and lost to us forever. GMO pollen can drift for many miles (corn is an example) and thereby contaminate organic crops as well.

4) An undue burden is being placed on organic farmers and producers to seek out non-GMO sources and maintain their purity.

5) The real threat of cross-pollination threatens the seed supplies of subsistence farmers throughout the world. Small communities based on subsistence farming are in danger of being destroyed.

6) The concentration of seed production in the hands of a few corporations will limit seed availability to large farms and corporations that can afford it, thus threatening further the viability of small independent farms.

What we believe we can control:
At this writing, any food that is not certified organic is suspect-this includes some oils, soy protein and isolates, lecithin and corn. In fact, most U.S. corn is in danger of being contaminated-organic or non-organic. In order to provide inexpensive “healthy” food to our members, especially our large vegetarian community, we cannot discontinue all products that we suspect contain GMOs. However, we will do whatever we can to maximize non-GMO choices.

We support banning the use of GMOs in food production.
1) Whenever possible, we will replace a genetically modified food with a GMO free product.
2) We will support companies and farmers who refuse to use GMO products by featuring their products and choosing them over other companies who have not done so. We will notify companies by phone or letter of our concerns or support whenever necessary. We will get GMO-free certification from companies and keep this in the Product Information area in each store.
3) We will educate our membership about GMO concerns by notes on the shelves or articles in the newsletter or brochures.
4) We support a national labeling law that requires companies to inform consumers about the presence of GMO’s in food products.
5) We call for a global moratorium on growing crops from genetically modified seed until this experiment has been proven safe for the environment and people.


Seward Community Co-op, Minneapolis, MN

Seward Co-op stands with the 92 percent of Americans who believe consumers have the right to know if their food has been genetically engineered. As part of our commitment to this belief, we support local and national organizations that educate consumers and advocate for mandatory labeling laws — organizations such as Just Label It, the Truth in Labeling Coalition, the Non-GMO Project, and Right to Know Minnesota. Seward Co-op also is a member of the National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA), a trade organization comprised of 134 retail co-ops. NCGA works with several organizations to fight the deregulation of GMOs at the regulatory and legal levels. We believe that GMO labeling will be a reality in the coming years.

Until that time, we are taking steps to ensure that we offer non-GMO alternatives. We prioritize certified-organic and Non-GMO Project-verified products. Whenever possible, we will provide shoppers with at least one certified-organic product choice in each food category where there is a likelihood of GMO content. Since organic certification does not allow for the use of genetically modified seeds, certified-organic products are the least likely to contain genetically modified ingredients.

The only instance in which we will carry new items that are likely to contain GMOs (those containing corn, soy, non-cane sugar, canola, cottonseed oil, papaya, or summer squash) is when the items meet a customer need that cannot be fulfilled by non-GMO alternatives. We strongly encourage our vendors to source Non-GMO ingredients, and we require that any products labeled as Non-GMO are verified (or in the process of verification) by the Non-GMO Project. In addition, we provide education on the topic to help shoppers make informed choices. We routinely provide resources on Non-GMO labeling on our website, through classes, and in articles in our member newsletter, the “Sprout!” We encourage member involvement in this issue through social media updates and Non-GMO events throughout the year.\


Mississippi Market, St. Paul, MN


Mississippi Market commits to not bring in any new items that contain “GMO-likely” ingredients.

Genetically modified ingredients, while ubiquitous in our food supply, are currently limited to a few approved crops, including corn, sugar beets, soy, canola, cotton, alfalfa, papaya and summer squash.  If these ingredients are not accompanied by organic certification or Non-GMO verification, they are likely to be a GM variety.

Mississippi Market’s product policy now includes:

Mississippi Market Co-op will not add any new products containing corn, soy, canola, non-cane sugar, cottonseed oil, papaya or summer squash unless they are certified organic or Non-GMO Project verified.  An affidavit of non-GMO sourcing may be accepted in some situations.

This product policy change shows a strong commitment to GMO-free products, while honoring long-term relationships with more mainstream brands that the stores already carry. Mississippi Market hopes to see other natural food stores follow suit.

No-GMOMississippi Market believes that the labeling responsibility should be on the producers of GM products and is a supporter of the Truth in Labeling Coalition and the Just Label It campaign, which petitions the Food and Drug Administration to mandate labeling for all genetically modified food sold in the United States. Meanwhile, the co-op will continue to label foods on our shelves that have joined the Non-GMO Project  and have been independently tested to be GM-free.  That disclosure is voluntary, however, and the food industry’s heavy hitters do not want GMO labeling inscribed in FDA policy. Because the FDA makes no distinction between GM and non-GM foods, such labeling is unlikely to occur without significant consumer action. Shoppers can look for the Non-GMO project tags on our shelves calling out products that have tested GM-free.

On the state level, Mississippi Market has joined Right to Know Minnesota, a coalition working to pass Minnesota legislation requiring labeling of foods produced using genetically modified organisms. While Mississippi Market believes federal-level labeling is ultimately the best solution for consumers and producers, this legislation draws much-needed attention to this issue and will show Minnesotans’ support for GMO labeling.

Not accepting new products that are likely to contain GMOs is a way we can take action now, even as we lobby for labeling requirements,” explains Liz McMann, Mississippi Market’s consumer affairs manager. Going forward, the co-op will no longer accept any new products with ingredients that are likely to be genetically modified.  Ingredients such as corn, soy, canola, sugar beet, cottonseed, papaya and summer squash must be certified organic, Non-GMO Project verified, or able to provide other verification of non-GMO sourcing.”

Visit www.msmarket.coop/products/policy to view Mississippi Market’s complete product policy.