Sporting biohazard suits and hefting papier-m‰ché corn cobs, activists with Northwest Resistance Against Genetic Engineering may look like a cartoon army, but after two years of protests at local supermarkets, they are beginning to have a serious impact.
In November, NWRAGE was part of a national coalition that spurred grocery chain Trader Joe's to remove genetically modified organisms from its private-label products.
Now the coalition is turning its bullhorns and protest signs on a far mightier quarry: supermarket juggernaut Safeway, which last year rang up more than $34 billion in sales.
NWRAGE kicked off its campaign last week, staging protests at two Southeast Portland stores in an effort to force the grocery goliath to pull GMOs from its private-label brands, such as Safeway Select.
NWRAGE co-founder Mark Des Marets says genetically engineered food is both untested and unsafe, and that most Americans don't realize how far the new organisms have already reached into the food supply.
"Once they find out, they won't buy the lie that it's safe," says Des Marets. Safeway spokeswoman Bridget Flanagan did not return requests for comment. In a written statement, the company noted that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers GMO food safe.
Shannon Adams, an East Portland mother of two and Safeway shopper, isn't convinced. She says the government is doing a lousy job of informing the public about GMOs and she's only now beginning to learn about them.
"I don't want my kids eating genetically altered food," she says.
Safeway dismissed the protesters as a "small number of interest groups who oppose GM foods." But the company might want to step out of its stores and listen to the dozens of automobile drivers honking their support for NWRAGE. That's a sea change from two years ago, when passersby greeted the protests with jeers and obscenities.
Says Terrie Miranda, another NWRAGE member, "This is a campaign we will escalate if Safeway refuses to find a resolution."