Safeway shareholders vote down GMO labeling effort

Source: Tiffany Stecker, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, July 28, 2014

Shareholders of supermarket chain Safeway Corp. voted down a resolution at their annual meeting Friday that would have required labeling of foods containing genetically engineered ingredients.

Ninety percent of shareholders at the meeting voted against the resolution, which was presented by Boston-based Green Century Equity Fund. Despite the outcome, the effort reflects a growing push to label genetically modified organisms, plants that have had their DNA altered through modern laboratory methods rather than traditional breeding.

“We think this is something that is inevitable,” said Lucia von Reusner, shareholder advocate for Green Century.

Connecticut, Vermont and Maine have passed labeling laws, and several more states will vote on ballot initiatives on the issue in November. A New York Times poll last year found that 93 percent of respondents support the identification of GMOs on food packages. Activist shareholders have introduced similar resolutions to agribusiness giant Monsanto Co. this year.

Pleasanton, Calif.-based Safeway yielded $36.1 billion in sales last year. The company is set to merge with AB Acquisition LLC, an affiliate of the grocery chain Albertsons. The merger, announced in March, will transition Safeway from a publicly owned company to a private firm. Last Friday’s meeting was the last public shareholder meeting for the company.

Green Century owns about $116,000 in Safeway shares, said von Reusner.

Although GMO labeling has received widespread public support, food industry groups, right-leaning think tanks and scientific organizations like the American Association for the Advancement of Science have denounced the movement as scaremongering, pointing to the body of research that finds no link between GMOs and adverse health effects. The National Center for Public Policy Research applauded the rejection of the resolution.

“The cost of implementing [labeling] for no benefit to the consumer … it would be an insane business decision,” said Justin Danhof, general counsel and director of the Free Enterprise project at the National Center for Public Policy Research. “It’s unscientific, it’s unsound business, and I think most people saw through that.”

The center also has fended off calls for labeling at the Monsanto shareholder meeting and similar meetings at Kraft Foods Group Inc. and PepsiCo. High-end grocery chain Whole Foods has committed to labeling all GMO foods by 2018.

Safeway did not comment on the resolution.