CAROLINE HURRY yearns for some straight answers
Never thought I’d say this but I’m taking my shopping bags elsewhere. The trust has gone, for me. You see, for a while I believed you cared about animal welfare and the health of your consumers. You were one of the first chains to sell cruelty-free toiletries and in 1999 you vowed that you would not sell produce containing GMOs.
I become a loyal customer for those reasons alone. So what happened? Today your bread contains the second highest GM content (85.62%) in the country and most of your food is riddled with GMO, even as the Chinese army bans ALL GMO grains and oils. Consumers are signing petitions like this and voicing their dismay on facebook here but when we express our concern to you directly, we get the standard
PR babble prabble: “Our labels comply with labelling legislation and regulations and we will gladly comply with any changes to government guidelines on labelling of GMO.” Or the Woollies knuckle rap: “Repetitive posts are considered spam. Repeat offenders may be reported and blocked for the sake of the community.”
Ah, so it’s the community that concerns you? Silly me, I thought I was part of your community as a loyal customer, but when I ask you to disclose the source of your organic eggs, I hit a brick wall. You see, I keep hens for eggs because chicken farming in this country is a horror show. And in searching high and low for GM-free chicken food I discovered some terrifying things. Firstly there is NO GMO-free hen food available for purchase anywhere in South Africa. None. And secondly – get this – “South Africa does not even have an ‘organic regulation’ … so anyone can label a food ‘organic’ and there is nothing anyone can do about it even when it is not. Countries like Ethiopia have an ‘organic regulation’ but ours remains a pipe dream.” So says Mr Ralph Peckover, an independent food inspector hired by you, Woolworths, as your egg certifier.
Now that we’ve established (and several sources will attest) that there is no organic regulation in South Africa then surely we, your customers, have a right to know where your organic eggs come from. Other chains are not as shy and I was so impressed with the set-up for a rival chain’s (Spar’s) “free-range” eggs that I bought my hens from them.
So I was a little nonplussed to be told: “WW does not disclose information regarding our producers or suppliers. This information is deemed sensitive.”
As journalist Stevie Godson says: “Sensitive? I can only hazard guesses about why that should be. Not one of the possible answers I’ve come up with is good. What do you think they mean?”
Search me. Actually search for yourself and you’ll find disquieting statements about varying degrees of “free range” standards in general – 10 birds per square metre and an hour of sunlight a day. Not to mention the repercussions in a couple of years when subsistence farmers cannot grow their own food anymore due to GMO. And where is the choice for the health-conscious South African consumer? Am I the only one who finds these repercussions scary?
I too wonder about the “sensitivities” of your food sources. I’d really like some answers Woolies but I’m not holding my breath. I’m just making it my business to source food from local markets and farmers who care about keeping hens happy and growing food free of the GMOs being foisted on us via your slick “healthy living” slogans. Those sure sound like weasel words to me, Woolworths. So, at the risk of sounding like Don Quixote tilting against yet another soul-free corporate windmill, I bid you adieu.
- Update: For the record this letter got 30 000 hits in three days and counting, so whether or not you agree with GMO, it’s a hot subject, which makes me wonder why South Africans were never told that all our maize was going to be genetically modified before the govt simply went ahead with it.
- Here is Woolworths’ response published in BizNews.
- This article also appeared in BizNews here