PORTLAND, Ore. -- Retailers ought to take the risk and offer irradiated perishables to their customers, according to panelists at Connections 2002 here.
Bill Robinson, vice president of merchandising for the Northwest region of Minneapolis-based Supervalu, said he anticipates that technology and food safety will change the complexion of supermarket perishables departments in the next three to five years, with irradiated meat and produce expanding "in a big way."
Dale C. Henley, president and chief executive officer of Haggen, Bellingham, Wash., said he thinks the industry should take a risk on irradiated beef.
"So far, there's no scientific evidence that it's bad, but you can't prove a negative so we're at some risk if something is found in the future," he said. "But we know irradiation will eliminate many diseases in beef, and life is a risk anyway, so I see a huge win and no identifiable negatives on this point, and I believe we should take the risk."
Connections 2002 is an annual conference sponsored by the Food Industry Leadership Center of Portland State University here.
In an audience follow-up to the panelists' remarks, audience members said they expect Measure 27 -- a proposal on the Oregon ballot that would require a label reading "genetically engineered" on foods with genetically modified ingredients -- to fail in tomorrow's voting.
"Oregon may seem like a very liberal state," one audience member said, "but our loyalty is to protect farmers."
While early polls showed 80% of voters are in favor of the initiative, more recent surveys indicate as many as 63% of Oregon citizens plan to vote against it, the speaker said.
When asked what if it passes, she replied, "We'll have to fight it."
If it does pass, states like California and Massachusetts could seek similar legislation, another conference participant suggested.
A student in the audience said the issue of genetically modified ingredients needs to be addressed at the national level, not the state level. She said she expects the vote to be closer to 50-50.
One speaker suggested consumer education as an alternative to labeling laws. "The industry should educate consumers that most foods have such ingredients, and if they don't want them, they should buy organic," she said.
In his formal presentation, Henley said he believes retailers should focus on fulfilling the needs of their customers "because the only thing that justifies our economic existence is the ability to deliver the finest and best-value equation to the consumers that shop with us.