FAQs: Woolworths and GMO

Woolworths is being asked a lot of questions about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in our food lately.
To answer these questions as thoroughly as possible, we’ve done some research and compiled the information below to help our customers understand:

GMOs: What are the issues?
The SA government’s position on GMOs
Woolworths and GMOs

We’ve also directly answered the 10 questions most frequently asked by our customers.

1. I’ve heard there was a study saying Woolworths white bread is 85% GMO. Is that true?
Absolutely not. A recent study of a loaf of our white bread found that the soy flour component (which makes up significantly less than 1% of the whole loaf) contained 85% GMO… not the whole loaf itself.

2. Does the South African government support GMOs?
Yes. The Genetically Modified Organisms Act of 1997 paved the way for the growth of the GMO industry. SA is now the 8th largest producer of GMO crops in the world.

3. Are there laws in SA on labeling food with GMO ingredients?
Yes. GM labelling legislation has been in place since 2004. Consumer Protection Act came into force in 2011, and requires all food containing 5% or more GMO content to be labeled. (We do more than that. We label food ‘may be genetically modified’ whenever we can’t guarantee that the ingredient is not obtained from a potentially genetically modified crop).

4. What is the official Woolies position on GMO?
We are committed to empowering our customers to choose for themselves by providing accurate and informative labelling. Our preference is to avoid the use of GMO in Woolies food. Where we cannot, we label products that might contain GMO. This has been our policy since 1999.

5. Does Woolworths label all their own label products that might contain GMO ingredients?

6. Why does Woolies stock products that contain GMO ingredients at all?
We offer a lot of choice, particularly to those who prefer to avoid GM food… only 5.3% of Woolworths private label food products contain ingredients from potential GM sources. Our wide organic offering also does not allow GMOs, while no fruit and veg grown commercially in SA contain GMOs.

There are arguments for and against GMO and we believe our customers should be empowered to make their own decisions.

7. But didn’t you make a commitment to remove all GMO from your food? 
Our preference is to avoid GMO in our food OR clearly label products that may contain GM ingredients. This way our customers can decide for themselves, based on their own feelings around the GMO debate. We are committed to reducing the number of products that contain ingredients from GM crop sources.

8. Why does Woolworths say that food supplier information is 'deemed sensitive'? That sounds like a smoke-screen.
We try to be as open as possible about our suppliers (and celebrate many of them), but as in any commercial environment, we need to keep some supplier details to ourselves to keep the business competitive. We take full responsibility for all our products and we will assist customers with their queries.  

9. What is Woolies doing to reduce the amount of GMO used in their product? Now that the agricultural industry is so dominated by GM maize, soy and cotton, it’s become more challenging to find non-GM sources of these ingredients. We’re always doing research, across our food supply chain, to reduce the number of products than contain GMO. This is a really important commitment for us. To find out more, read about our good food journey.

10. What must I do if I’m South African and I really want to avoid all GMO?
Read ingredient labels carefully, and choose organic products whenever possible. Remember fruit and vegetable are not GM. Be aware of the fact that the genetically modified crops grown in South Africa are pre-dominantly white maize, yellow maize, cotton and soya.

11. I read somewhere that Woolworths had once promised to phase out GMO ingredients, is this true?
No. This is incorrect. It has been Woolworths policy since 1999 to avoid ingredients derived from GM crop sources where possible for Woolworths-branded products. Where this is not possible, the products are clearly labelled, enabling customers to make an informed choice about the food they consume.