“Food Babe” Slams Trader Joe’s on Hiding GMO Issue

GM Cartoon

Foodbabe.com‘s Vani Hari unleashed this week… right on top of Trader Joe’s… with good reason I might add!

In her “Corporate Ripping” usual style she points out clearly that the needs of the corporation usually outweigh the desires of the consumer.

The following quote from her scathing article highlights the problem aptly…

A family member does this little game with me and it happens over and over. After trying a bite of something that looks homemade, I say, “Mmm where did you get this from?” and she says, “Don’t worry, it’s from Trader Joe’s, so it’s organic.” The fact that people assume all products from Trader Joe’s are organic or healthy or better than what you would find elsewhere is an alarming misconception.

Even though Vani openly says she loves to shop at Trader Joe’s, mainly because the employees are nice and prices are generally good, she does state that like most large retailers, she doesn’t trust them…

…and neither should you.

She takes note first with the inability of the corporation to take a real stand… on anything.. much less GMO’s.

She dislikes the “clock of secrecy”, which make she “head want to explode”.

Can’t say I blame her. After 22 years in the corporate world myself, I realized a long time ago that the only reason a big a corp dodges questions is because they don’t know, or don’t care.

Do you think for one second that just because they take a mild stance on the question of GMPO’s, dodging questions like a suspect, that it’s going to shut down their stores tomorrow?

No way. All of us? We’re the weirdo outsiders.. the kooky ones… when of course, we are just the small percentage of shoppers with our eyes and ears actually open.

Regardless, Vani is not one to sit on her hands, that’s for sure. She challenged Trader Joe’s straight up on their GMO policy, and published the findings on the internet for all (of us who care) to see.

First.. the official GMO Statement from Trader Joe’s.

Our approach to Genetically Modified Organisms is simple: we do not allow GMO ingredients in our private label products (anything with Trader Joe’s, Trader Jose’s, Trader Ming’s, etc. on the label).

Vani then poses the following question…

Given what Trader Joe’s tells us about their GMO policy, we should trust them, right? Or are we trusting them just like many consumers trusted Naked Juice, Tostitos, Kashi, Gold Fish, Barbara’s Bakery, etc. who are or have been faced with lawsuits finding suspected GMOs in their so-called “natural” products?

It’s a GREAT question, and of course, the answer is resoundingly NO.

Far too often in this country, we find ourselves easily trusting big corp, only to find out they’ve been screwing us, or blatantly lying to us the whole time… and we as a people.. just sort of put up with it while they rack in our hard earned cash. hm

Vani dug in. She stirred up a lot of research and firstly discovered that Trader Joe’s has no third party certifier verifying their products.

Let’s just back up for a second so I can spell this out a little.

Maybe you know this, maybe you don’t, but chains like Trader Joe’s regularly package products made by other companies (and maybe not in this country) into packaging that bears the private name of “Trader Joe’s”.

When you see a bag of chips that says Trader Joe’s brand, Big Trader Joe in the sky had NOTHING to do with it’s production. And this type of game ALWAYS goes to “the lowest bidder”. If joe’s want chips, it’s all about the price first, the chips second. This is capitalism here!

Anyway, Vani dug into many Trader Joe’s “branded” items and found countless items that either claim to be organic (but aren’t) or mimic the packaging of their organic counterparts to make you feel as if they are, in fact, organic.

In the end, it’s all on Trader Joe’s to care about the quality of their own products. No outside organization would be responsible for this… BUT, there ARE organzations that will help a business with this task.

How about the Non-GMO Project for one. Their whole business model is to be “the watchdog” in the area of GMO’s. Pay them a few dollars, and they will verify your goods!

Vani asked Trader Joe’s why they don’t use such a service. Trader Joe’s states they “don’t allow for auditing using the Non-GMO Project because there is an additional cost associated with that.” OOPS, it costs too much. Darn… they might have to raise their prices if they did that. Lord knows they don’t want to absorb the cost if they can help it.

Vani next reached out to the executive director of the NOn-GMO project, Megan Westgate, and inquired about their relationship with Trader Joe’s.

Surprise, Surrpise, the Non-GMO project has offered their services to Trader Joe’s many times… all to deaf ears.

This is what Megan Said officially.

“The Non-GMO Project has reached out to Trader Joe’s a number of times over the years, and we remain hopeful that at some point we will be able to forge a meaningful partnership with them. To date, it has been very difficult to ascertain the credibility of their non-GMO claims. We know that many consumers believe Trader Joe’s to be a GMO-free store, but without transparent standards or third-party verification this is impossible to confirm. Many other retailers–independent grocers, co-ops, and Whole Foods Market–are leading the way by requiring rigorous testing and labeling, and it would be great to see Trader Joe’s follow suit.”

Trader Joe’s claims that they rely on the documentation from their suppliers, but we all know how THAT goes and Trader Joe’s refused to share publicly ANY of the “review affidavits” that might prove the validity of their organic or non-gmo claims.

Of course there is no law saying they must, if they even exist in the first place, even though some big corps like Coco-Cola, who owns the Honest Tea brand, and Heineken beer readily release such information.

Vani is a big name when it comes to this, and admittedly, she was pissed that Trader Joe’s shot her down so fast.

Director of the Cornucopia Institute (the top organic industry watchdog group), Mark Kastel, who stated:

“It is very hard to figure out sourcing with Trader Joe’s. They heavily depend on private label products which are based on secrecy. We have said that private-label organics is an “oxymoron.” Organic consumers want to know “the story behind their food.” They want to know where it was produced, how it was produced, how the animals and workers involved have been treated, etc. None of that is possible with Trader Joe’s. Unlike the majority of all responsible brand marketers in organics they have refused to participate in our research studies and are thus rated very poorly on our scorecards that critique dairy foods, eggs and soy foods (etc.)”

We all certainly have a right to know where our food comes from, and which food has what in it. But with a major grocery store chain playing the “can you find the ball under the cup” routine, it’s impossible to tell.

There are some of us out there, who truly do want to vote with our dollars. To mean supporting companies that are above board, doing the right things, and not supporting the companies that do not by not purchasing their products. And actions by retailers to “cover the tracks” makes it very difficult for us consumers to do so.

She goes on to point out that not everything in Trader Joe’s is bad. If you stick to the certified organic fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds, along with certified brands you trust, then you can do right by yourself.

She readily encourages your to stay away from Trader Joe’s privately labeled goods, or at the very least, consider the ingredient list on the product carefully.

Here’s an image she developed for you.

This image is courtesy of foodbabe.com, all rights reserved.

Vani’s final words??

The most important thing to remember when shopping at Trader Joe’s or anywhere else for that matter, is to read the ingredient lists. Trader Joe’s still allows harmful petroleum- based artificial coloring, artificial flavors, carrageenan, and other questionable ingredients to creep into their stores via other brands and this is something to definitely watch out for.

If you know someone who shops at Trader Joe’s, share this article with them.


  1. FarmGirl says

    There is still no official 3rd party verification of GMO, which is what clouds this issue.

    GMO labeling is in a gray area right now, just as organic was before the organic label became property of te USDA in the early 90’s. before that, “organic” meant different things to different people (and certifiers).

    The best way to ensure you are eating non-GMO at the moment is to buy Organic.

    I know of an Organic certification company that had verified non-GMO for trader joes. This is simply a hazy issue because there is no official label that this USDA Organic certifier can offer for only looking into the GMO background of a food. Though it will probably come about soon, because of demand.

  2. Chef1234 says

    I’m all for non-gmo, but paying a non profit to audit you! If the non-gmo project is so committed to its cause, and TJ is concerned about cost, why not offer to do it at no cost? If TJ still declines the audit, then you have a good case.

    “Vani asked Trader Joe’s why they don’t use such a service. Trader Joe’s states they “don’t allow for auditing using the Non-GMO Project because there is an additional cost associated with that.” OOPS, it costs too much. Darn… they might have to raise their prices if they did that. Lord knows they don’t want to absorb the cost if they can help it.”

    Since we are talking transparency, how much is a “few dollars”?

  3. Danni says

    I shop at TJ’s regularly and I’m very disturbed by their non compliance to GMO 3rd party testing. As a mom of a gluten & casein intolerant kid I’ve learned to be careful about what we eat and what we put on our bodies. So now you’re basically telling me that TJ’s doesn’t care if their labels are true or not? Well the next time he has a behavior ‘meltdown’ after eating their food I guess I’ll just bring him in to my local store and show them what happens when they lie to their patrons.

  4. Barbara H says

    I read from TJ’s in one of their advertising brochures that they don’t use GMO’s in their products and all their dairy is sourced from cows not treated with hormones. I will be more careful now, though.

  5. Barbara says

    Hmmmmm…interesting. I never thought that Trader Joe’s was on par with a Whole Foods and similar shops in terms of GMOs, etc. Apparently that is a common belief. For myself I only ever buy meat, veg, fruit & olive oil at TJs as it is higher quality at lower prices in the area where I live. Processed foods are off my menu since I have Celiac Disease which also brought along intolerances to dairy and most grains including corn…As for TJs being unwilling to share information or invite oversight, they are a private company and rather notorious for being closed mouthed on the operations side of things. It might sound harsh but they are a business that exists to make money — if they incur increased costs they would pass that along to customers. If you want to hold them to Whole Food levels you’ll end up paying Whole Food prices.

  6. Bchristine says

    Vani is right on target. By Trader Joe’s dodging questions and not providing clarity as far as their products go, this is a RED FLAG. ALWAYS read the ingredients list; ALWAYS ask questions when there are concerns. As a patron of Trader Joe’s, this will make me all-the-more aware of what I purchase there.
    Thanks Jay for bringing this to everyone’s attention. Keep on doing what you’re doing!

  7. Leslie says

    That’s just a crying shame. I, had for while, really thought highly of Trader Joe’s, but they should really take heed on this issue.

    I honestly want to know the truth, all of the time. There’s nothing to hide, who cares if you honestly “don’t know” but at least say that so I can make up my own mind.

    For shame for shame.

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