Supermarket exec discusses GMOs, hormones, antibiotics

How do food retailers view current hot button food issues such as GMOs, hormones and antibiotics?  And what are they hearing from consumers? At a recent CommonGround event in Lincoln, Nebraska, we discussed those topics with Larry Elias, director of sales and merchandising with Lincoln-based B & R Stores.  B & R owns and operates the Russ’ Market and Super Saver grocery store chains in Nebraska and Iowa.

AUDIO: Larry Elias (4:47 MP3)

Post will make Grape-Nuts ‘non-GMO’

Cereal manufacturer Post says it will begin producing a “Non-GMO Verified” version of its staple barley and wheat cereal, Grape-Nuts.  And the company indicates that efforts are underway to add more non-GMO verified products to the Post Foods product line.

The move closely follows General Mills’ announcement that regular Cheerios will be made with non-GMO ingredients.

Non-GMO activist groups applaud the move, but say they will continue to pressure companies to remove GMOs from more food products.

Non-GMO activists claim ‘huge victory’

“A huge victory for the non-GMO movement.”

That’s how non-GMO activists are reacting to General Mills’ announcement that it will be stop using genetically modified ingredients in its original Cheerios cereal.

In reality, the move does not appear to be that much of a stretch for General Mills.  The main ingredient in Cheerios is oats, which has never been genetically modified.  The company says it will switch to corn starch from non-GMO corn and sugar from non-GMO pure cane sugar.

However, these changes apply only to the original Cheerios.  A company spokesman tells CNN that removing genetically modified ingredients from their flavored varieties, such as Honey Nut and Apple Cinnamon Cheerios, would be “difficult, if not impossible”.

General Mills said the original-flavored Cheerios will soon include a label on boxes stating “Not Made With Genetically Modified Ingredients”.  But the company also issued a warning that traces of GMO product could still be found in the new batches, due to contamination during processing and manufacturing.

General Mills has been strongly criticized by non-GMO activists since the company donated over one-million dollars to the campaign to defeat California’s Proposition 37 in 2012.  That proposition would have required labeling of foods containing GMO ingredients.

Thank America’s farmers for safe, abundant food supply


For many of us, food is the centerpiece of all family and social gatherings. For as long as I can remember, the food at our family gatherings was always tastier than that I might sample at gatherings of some of my friends’ families. Perhaps that is partially because of the happy memories associated with our family gatherings, but I think there is more to it than that. I believe it has something to do with the fact that much of what is laid out at a family “spread” is home grown.

Beef that we’ve raised is always better than the best steak at the best restaurant. When I think back of gatherings from my childhood, I can remember going to Aunt Vicki and Uncle Melvin’s on a Sunday with the smell of fried chicken and green beans with bacon greeting us as we entered the house. (Those were home grown chickens and green beans of course.)

My husband and I now cook our home raised beef roasts in the Dutch oven in which Grandma Doris used to cook her home raised beef roasts. I have such fond memories of Sunday gatherings with twenty-some cousins running and jumping, playing softball or tag or kick-the-can. Kids ate big and played hard. Adults ate big and worked hard. Our play and our work were of a physical nature, however, and we burned the extra calories consumed at a big family function in short order.

Deciding what to take to carry-in meal today presents more challenges than it did not so many years ago. Part of that is because of the abundance of food available to us today. We don’t have to bake our bread or brew our own tea or grow our own potatoes to make potato salad. I can go to Hy-Vee and buy any quantity of ready-to-serve potato salad I want to buy!

Grocery stores, farmers markets, convenience stores “dollar” stores all carry food items today. I can grab a pizza and milk when I stop to get fuel on my way home from town. The behemoth stores where you can buy shoes, get your oil changed, fill your prescriptions, get a haircut, have your nails done, sign up for internet and mobile phone service and have your taxes done also have groceries.

We can buy a variety of fruits and vegetables any time of the year, or we can choose to buy only what is locally grown, in season.

A safe, abundant, and affordable food supply is at the tip of our fingers. We can thank you, America’s farmers, for that.

Happy New Year.

Bill would require GMO labeling

Legislation to require the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to clearly label all genetically modified foods has been introduced in the U.S. House and Senate.

The Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act was introduced by California Senator Barbara Boxer and Oregon Representative Peter DeFazio. It would require FDA to label all food products that incorporate ingredients made from genetically modified grains, including animal feeds and pet foods, as well as genetically engineered salmon.

Boxer says Americans have the right to know what is in the food they eat so they can make the best choices for their families. She says the legislation has the support of a broad coalition of consumer groups, businesses, farmers, fishermen and parents who all agree consumers deserve more information about the food they buy.

During 2012 floor consideration of the Senate’s farm bill, there was an attempt to add language allowing states to set their own GMO labeling regulations.  That effort failed 76 to 24.

Concerns over crop insurance, food aid

Proposed cuts to crop insurance and a restructuring of the nation’s food aid programs are drawing criticism from the American Soybean Association (ASA) and state soybean groups.

Those proposals were part of President Obama’s budget proposal for 2014, released last week.  It includes a seven-point-four billion dollar reduction in the federal crop insurance program. 

Carol Balvanz of the Iowa Soybean Association

Carol Balvanz of the Iowa Soybean Association

But the policy director for the Iowa Soybean Association, Carol Balvanz, says it’s the wrong place to look for savings.

“Crop insurance paid out this past year, but it hasn’t always—and if you back the last ten years, farmers have more than paid their fair share,” says Balvanz. “So making cuts to this just because it’s a good place to gather a couple percentage points of money does not seem to be wise planning.”

In addition to the proposed cuts to crop insurance, ASA reiterated its strong opposition to a proposed restructuring of the nation’s international food aid programs.

The proposed change would replace in-kind aid with cash vouchers for purchases of food aid from foreign suppliers instead of commodities grown by American farmers.  But Iowa Soybean’s Balvanz says simply giving cash to foreign countries is a risky proposition.

“Cash is very fungible—it’s very usable for things other than food,” she says, “and many of the countries where our products end up are so poor that I’m not sure they have the infrastructure in place to assure that that money would actually go for either food production in that country or to buy food for the poorest people.”

However, ASA points out there were also positives in the President’s budget. Several of ASA’s top priorities were reflected in the proposal, including both agricultural research and infrastructure.

AUDIO: Carol Balvanz (2:09 MP3)

Starting a home food business

Entrepreneurs interested in starting their own food business have the opportunity to learn how to begin and grow their enterprise at an upcoming Purdue Extension workshop.  “An Introduction to Starting a Specialty Food Business in Indiana” will cover a variety of topics from business planning, marketing, to food safety and regulations. 

Maria Marshall, agricultural economics associate professor at Purdue says the workshop is a great introduction to all the issues entrepreneurs will have to deal with before starting their food business. 

The workshop is April 25th at the Indiana Farm Bureau offices in Indianapolis.  The cost of the workshop is $100 per person and is due by April 17th

A link to more information can be found HERE.

Whole Foods to require GMO labeling

The Whole Foods grocery chain says all products in its stores that contain genetically modified ingredients will be labeled as such by 2018.  It’s the first national grocery chain to set such a deadline for labeling foods that contain genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

Grain/food giants announce joint venture

ConAgra Foods, Cargill and CHS have agreed to form an independent joint venture, combining their North American flour-milling businesses into a new company called Ardent Mills. 

The new company will combine ConAgra Mills and Horizon Milling, a Cargill-CHS joint venture formed in 2002. It will encompass 44 flour mills with locations from California to Massachusetts as well as bakery mix and specialty bakery facilities, with footholds in Canada and Puerto Rico. 

The new venture would control more than a third of the flour-milling capacity in the U.S.

Chicago site of next ‘Food Dialogues’

The U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) has announced the next event in its “Food Dialogues” discussions.

The two-part series will take place in Chicago, with the first panel discussion taking place on April 22nd at the BIO International Convention, and the second taking place June 19th at Kendall College.

The April event will explore the impact that media have on consumers’ knowledge of biotechnology.  The June session will focus on transparency, specifically the type of information consumers are looking for when making food purchasing decisions.

According to a USFRA news release, the Food Dialogues are “designed to answer Americans’ questions on some of today’s most provocative issues surrounding food.”