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HEB'S Genetically Engineered Foods Are Nothing Te Be Thankful For

For Immediate Release:
Monday, Nov. 25, 2002
Contact: Luke Metzger
(512) 743-8257

HEB continues to ignore consumers' request
for labeling of genetically engineered foods

(San Antonio, TX) This Thanksgiving, HEB customers have little to be thankful for as HEB continues to dismiss consumer request for labeling of genetically engineered ingredients in its 'Hill Country Fare' and 'HEB' brand products. In response, a coalition of consumer, environmental and religious organizations gathered in front of HEB headquarters today to call on the grocery chain to stop using genetically engineered ingredients or to at least label products that contain these ingredients.

HEB protest banner

"HEB continues to keep its customers in the dark by refusing to label its products," said Luke Metzger, Consumer Advocate with TexPIRG. "Consumers deserve to know exactly what they're eating."

It is likely that many HEB processed foods like snack items, macaroni and cheese, peanut butter, pot pies, bread etc. contain genetically engineered corn, soybean, canola or cottonseed ingredients. But none of these GE ingredients are currently labeled.

HEB'S Genetically Engineered Foods Are Nothing Te Be Thankful For (continued)

HEB products test positive for GMOs

This Thanksgiving, if you plan on having cornbread made with HEB Hill Country Fare Cornmeal, you can expect to have GMOs on your table.

Recent laboratory tests of HEB products by Genetic ID confirmed the presence of genetically engineered ingredients in two products. Hill Country Fare Yellow Cornmeal tested at 14.4% GE material. However, HEB Round Tortilla Chips only contained 0.2% GE.

"If HEB can have low amounts of GMOs in its tortilla chips, why not in ALL their products?", asked Candace Boheme, of Say No To GMOs.

cartoon commentary

Recently, Whole Foods and Trader Joe's have announced they will only use non-GMO ingredients in their house brand products. It's time for HEB, whose Central Market stores cater to food-conscious consumers, to follow suit.

Most Americans support labeling

A poll conducted last year for Time Magazine and CNN showed that 81 percent want "genetically engineered foods labeled as such". As with nutrition labels that provide basic information about content of food products, consumers have a right to know that they are eating GE foods.

While many other countries require labeling of GE ingredients, US food manufacturers argue that labeling would be too burdensome and expensive. Yet Heinz is currently labeling GE ingredients in their US-made products for distribution in Australia. This double standard proves labeling can be accomplished when the market demands it.

Consumer demand for labeling of GE food is consistent with Americans' growing concern about food safety. Such concerns have been highlighted by the boom in organic food sales and the 275,000 public comments that were sent to the USDA regarding the Agency's proposed organic standards. Genetically engineered ingredients are excluded in organic production.

In addition, many consumers believe that GE food crops are unethical and violate religious dietary laws. Vegetarians are concerned about the possibility of ingesting animal DNA if, for example, fish genes are inserted into tomatoes. Britain's Prince Charles recently questioned GE foods, stating, "this kind of genetic modification takes mankind into the realms that belong to God, and God alone."

Genetically engineered foods are virtually unregulated due to inadequate FDA oversight and lack of independent testing, putting public health and the environment at risk. Mounting scientific evidence suggests that GE foods may cause health and environmental hazards such as new allergic reactions, new toxins, antibiotic resistance, transfer of altered genetic material to other organisms, herbicide resistant superweeds and increased chemical use.

"HEB is aware of the potential health and environmental risks of genetically engineered foods, yet they have chosen profit over precaution; a strategy likely to have long term repercussions," stated Dr. Neil Carman of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.


Say No To GMOs! -

The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club -

The Socially Responsible Investment Coalition -

Organic Consumers Association -


Advocates Ask HEB To Label Altered Foods

By Kris Banks (Daily Texan Staff)
November 26, 2002

Genetically modified' ill-defined, chain says

Consumer advocacy groups called for HEB Grocery Company, the biggest food retailer in the state, to label genetically modified products Monday. The company says it cannot until the term "genetically modified" is better defined.

Say No to GMOs, an organization opposed to genetically modified organisms, sent products from HEB to Genetic ID, a food-testing company based in Iowa.

Genetic ID found that Hill Country Fare-brand cornmeal was composed of 14.4 percent genetically modified material.

Hill Country Fare products are not manufactured by HEB but are exclusively distributed by the chain. They are what HEB regional public affairs director Kate Brown called "value products," meaning they are cheaper.

Genetic ID also found that HEB-brand tortilla chips consisted of 0.2 percent genetically modified material.

John Fagan, chief scientific and executive officer at Genetic ID, said their tests are internationally recognized as accurate. The company compares molecules in the tested product to molecules from organic and modified products.

Luke Metzger, director of Texas Public Interest Research Group, said genetically modified products pose potential dangers because of the possibility of allergies, and HEB should let customers know when they are buying modified products.

Genetic modifications also frequently add antibiotics, which could cause problems in the future, he said.

"The antibiotic buildup in 10 years could make us vulnerable to several diseases," Metzger said.

Metzger cited the Flavr Savr, a genetically modified tomato marketed in 1994. The Flavr Savr was found in food and Drug Administration tests to cause lesions in the stomach of rats.

There is no proof of harm to humans from the Flavr Savr, and it was taken off the shelves soon after its release because of unpopularity.

Metzger said the groups are targeting the store because HEB is a socially responsible company, and they don't believe the government will act.

"The federal government has failed to protect consumers," he said. "That's why we're demonstrating to the food companies."

Brown said the FDA has not defined what constitutes a genetically altered product, making it impossible for the store to label products.

She said that while they have discussed the matter with the opposing groups and will continue to do so, there is neither proof to require labels nor customer demand for them.

"There's a lot of data that the health benefits are incredible," she said. "This is a controversial issue."

Brown said internal customer surveys have revealed that their markets are not concerned with the dangers of genetically modified products, and that they trust HEB with the safety of their food.

Fagan said that more than 30 percent of corn crops in the United States are genetically modified.


Dear Daily Texan:

I would like to respond to 'Advocates ask HEB to label altered foods'.

1. Most of the crops currently on supermarket shelves are engineered for traits like herbicide or insect resistance. They have absolutely no benefit to the consumer and in fact, increase the likelihood of pesticide residue at harvest.

2. Claims of 'incredible health benefits' mentioned by Kate Brown are a pipe-dream of the biotech industry to gain consumer acceptance of biotech foods. I wish she were equally interested in the health risks of GE products currently on HEB shelves.

3. Genetic engineering is a radical laboratory technique that moves genetic material across species barriers and inserts it randomly into the host cell. GE crops can be identified by testing for this foreign genetic material.

4. FDA relies on industry data regarding safety of GMOs. Remember DDT, PCBs etc? Consumers have a right to be concerned and a right to know!

5. The fact that 'their markets are not concerned with the dangers of genetically modified products' is a reflection of the lack of open public debate and access to credible information in the media.

6. HEB has been non-responsive to repeated requests for a follow-up meeting with consumer advocates on this issue.

7. For more information on the consumer dialogue with HEB and the many aspects of this issue see

Candace Boheme
Say No To GMOs!


Protest Targets Genetically-Altered Foods at H.E.B.

By Bonnie Pfister
SA Express-News Business Writer
Web Posted : 11/26/2002 12:00 AM

Half a dozen protesters gathered outside H.E. Butt Grocery Co.'s headquarters Monday to rally against use of genetically modified organisms in the grocer's house-brand products.

Representatives of the Texas Public Interest Research Group, the Socially Responsible Investment Coalition, and an organic gardener from Boerne dressed as a pilgrim called on the San Antonio-based grocer to label any H-E-B or Hill Country Fare-brand products containing genetically altered, or GM, foods.

Better yet, H-E-B could simply opt not to allow such products in their house-brand goods, as Austin-based grocer Whole Foods has done, said Candace Boheme, a retired nun who runs the informational Web site

"It's a moral dilemma," Boheme said. "H-E-B might be putting consumers at risk, but the bottom line is the bottom line for them."

Genetic modification in plants involves combining genes across species to produce organisms with specific qualities, such as resistance to weeds and pests, or longer shelf-life. Critics charge such foods can produce allergic reactions and increase human resistance to antibiotics.

H.E. Butt maintains that all food — genetically modified and otherwise — sold at its stores is absolutely safe and is sold in compliance with U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules. A survey of 1,000 customers last year determined GM foods were not a cause for worry, a spokeswoman said.

To label products as genetically modified would be confusing and expensive, said Bill Fry, H-E-B's vice president of quality control said Monday.

"Fifty percent of the products in any grocery store are genetically modified, and they have all been determined by the FDA to be safe for consumer use," Fry said.


Much Ado About Something

By Tucker Teutsch III
December 5, 2002

November 25 is not an auspicious day in history: What with JFK's burial, Alfred Nobel's invention of dynamite, and the discovery of the Iran-Contra scandal, it would seem that the only bright light on the historical horizon was Joe DiMaggio's birthday in 1914. But November 25, 2002 marked a particularly civic day for San Antonio.

In front of the H-E-B headquarters, a small group of concerned citizens gathered to protest H-E-B's use of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) in their house brands ("Hill Country Fare" and products carrying the H-E-B label). Erica Gray, an organic farmer from Boerne, was decked out in a pilgrim costume with a baby in tow, holding a banner reading: "H-E-B's genetically engineered foods are nothing to be thankful for."

"Everybody thinks that an apple is an apple and a piece of meat is a piece of meat," Gray said. But, citing the example of the Flavr Savr tomato (which contains fish genes), that is rarely the case anymore, Gray added. Since 1995, when GMOs made their agricultural debut, a significant number of food products have been grown with a little extra boost, courtesy of altered genetics. Despite FDA approval, many consumers around the world have become concerned about the long-term effects of GMOs on the human body and the environment. The European Union has imposed a moratorium on approval of new GMOs, sparking both a worldwide debate about the health risks of genetic engineering and flaring tempers by American agri-corporations such as Dupont and Monsanto, who claim that other nations' refusals to accept products with GMOs constitutes an infringement of free trade agreements.

The U.S. government still refuses to require companies to label genetically-engineered products. Activists, such as the ones who gathered at H-E-B's headquarters, are hoping to bring their concerns to the attention of company executives.

"H-E-B is concerned about their public image," said Luke Metzger of TexPIRG. "The labels on these products," he said, pointing to a table full of H-E-B brand products, "tell customers how many calories [they contain], how much sodium. Customers should also know if there are GMOs in their food." Metzger cited a scientific study that faulted GMOs with the development of stomach lesions in rodents, as well as faulty or nonexistent testing of the health effects of GMOs by the FDA.

Yet H-E-B spokesperson Winell Herron said her company is "committed to absolutely safe food. The food on our shelf is safe for human consumption. The items that they're talking about, the GM items, have been shown by the FDA to be as good as, or better than, the food without GM ingredients." Critics contend that studies on the effects of GM food on humans have been inadequate, and local protesters are still hoping to foment change within H-E-B, which they say has taken the initiative in the past to assure their products contain minimal levels of pesticide residue.

Four blocks away from this demonstration, another took place in front of the Mexican embassy, where a small group of women were draping themselves in flags and cloth banners to block out the cold. Their organizations - the Southwest Workers' Union and Unidas Sin Fronteras (United Without Borders) - were protesting to draw attention to immigrant rights and border issues, as well as to their observance of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. "We need more discussion about these issues," said Guadalupe Ramirez, who had traveled from Juárez to make her cause known. November 25, despite its negative historical antecedents, was shaping up to be a proud day for activism.

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