Meet Manolo Reyes. You may not know his name, but he has considerable influence over the U.S. food supply. Mr. Reyes goes to work every day at a place that determines how one out of every $3 spent on groceries in the United States is spent. This might lead you to believe that Mr. Reyes works at the Food and Drug Administration or the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but no. Mr. Reyes is the vice president of produce and floral for Walmart.
As the country's largest grocery retailer, Walmart sells more than $100 billion worth of food a year, giving it unmatched power in shaping the food supply chain. Walmart has spent millions trying to convince us that they want to help make our food supply healthier. They tell us they are going organic and local and will start trying to help shoppers cut down on salt, sugar and fat with a "Great for You" labeling scheme. But, as is the case with people and corporations that don't always tell the truth, there's more information in what Walmart isn't saying.
A couple of weeks ago, Walmart released a statement that it will begin selling meat that doesn't contain the filler called "lean, finely textured beef trimmings," or "pink slime," but it did not specify whether it would stop selling beef with the filler altogether. Similarly, when asked by more than half a million shoppers to block Monsanto's latest genetically engineered sweet corn, Walmart has been hiding behind a meaningless evasive statement that it doesn't "specifically source" GE foods.
Walmart may not go out of its way to require growers to produce Monsanto's GE sweet corn, but unless it takes affirmative steps to prevent the corn from coming into its stores, it is likely to be purchased and sold alongside regular corn, unlabeled, to unsuspecting consumers. By responding as they do to consumer complaints about GE sweet corn, Walmart is intentionally leaving the mistaken impression that they will not be selling this untested and potentially dangerous product when in all likelihood, it could wind up in its stores' produce section this summer.
Since January, nearly 500,000 people have signed a petition asking Walmart to refuse to sell Monsanto's GE sweet corn, more than 150 events have taken place at Walmart stores across the country and 8,500 people have called Mr. Reyes, other top Walmart officials, store and regional managers, and Walmart's customer service line.
Public opinion polls show that a majority of consumers asked would not eat GE food if they had a choice and nearly all -- 95 percent -- are insistent that GE food must at least be labeled so they can make informed choices.
Genetically engineered foods have not been comprehensively tested for long-term impacts on human and environmental health safety, but a growing body of research is uncovering potential health and environmental risks associated with GE crops such as increased food allergies and other long-term health effects. Plus, superweeds and pests have become resistant to GE-affiliated herbicides and pesticides and require many more toxic chemicals to be applied to crops.
Monsanto announced this new sweet corn -- its first variety intended to be eaten on the ear -- in August. Because the seed combines three genetically engineered traits that were approved in 2005 and 2008 (corn-borer resistance, rootworm resistance and tolerance for Monsanto's top-selling herbicide Roundup), it flew through the approvals process even though a vegetable with these three traits have never been consumed directly by people.
Every day, more people are learning that most highly processed packaged foods such as snacks and sugary breakfast cereal contain GE ingredients (such as soy, corn or canola), and are starting to avoid these foods and choosing fresh fruits and vegetables instead. But Monsanto and other GE seed manufacturers are one step ahead of us. In order to keep their market share growing and a stranglehold on our food supply, they must invade a new section of the grocery store.
A reporter asked me recently, with the vast majority of the American food supply now genetically engineered, how does stopping this one variety help consumers? If Walmart refuses to stock Monsanto's GE sweet corn, it would send a strong signal that there is no market for this genetically engineered food and could actually stop the seed before it's even planted.
This campaign is one of many battles being waged in a much larger fight to restore control and choice to consumers. Food & Water Watch, our food safety and environmental allies, and concerned eaters in communities across the country are fighting to roll back the prevalence of genetically engineered material in our food supply.
We all deserve the opportunity to choose healthy, sustainable foods that we know where and how they were grown. If everyone who believes this picks up the phone and calls Mr. Reyes, we really, truly can stop this and all untested, unlabeled and potentially unsafe GE foods in their tracks. What are you waiting for?
Follow Wenonah Hauter on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@foodandwater