Published on: March 11, 2013
Whole Foods Market announced on Friday that it will mandate that all the products sold in its US and Canadian stores be labeled if they contain any genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and it is giving its suppliers a five year deadline to meet this standard.
The move makes Whole Foods the first retailer to require this level of transparency of its suppliers, who reportedly were not consulted before the decision was made and only were told of it shortly before the public announcement.
CEO Walter Robb said that the company is "responding to our customers who have consistently asked us for GMO labeling and we are doing so by focusing on where we have control in our own stores."
And AC Gallo, president of Whole Foods, said that the company has "seen how our customers have responded to the products we do have labeled. Some of our manufacturers say they’ve seen a 15 percent increase in sales of products they have labeled."
According to the Wall Street Journal
, "Whole Foods said it now has 3,300 products verified as non-GMO. Its store-brand line, 365 Everyday Value, goes through a verification process.
"Mr. Robb said the company will increase its support of organic products, and work with partners to grow its supply of products without genetically modified ingredients, or clearly label products containing them."
The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) released a statement opposing the policy: "These labels could mislead consumers into believing that these food products are somehow different or present a special risk or a potential risk."
The New York Times
notes that "genetically modified ingredients are deeply embedded in the global food supply, having proliferated since the 1990s. Most of the corn and soybeans grown in the United States, for example, have been genetically modified. The alterations make soybeans resistant to a herbicide used in weed control, and causes the corn to produce its own insecticide. Efforts are under way to produce a genetically altered apple that will spoil less quickly, as well as genetically altered salmon that will grow faster.
goes on to report that "the shift by Whole Foods is the latest in a series of events that has intensified the debate over genetically modified foods. Voters defeated a hard-fought ballot initiative in California late last year after the biotech industry, and major corporations like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola, spent millions of dollars to fight the effort. Other initiatives have qualified for the ballot in Washington State and Missouri, while consumers across the country have been waging a sort of guerrilla movement in supermarkets, pasting warning stickers on products suspected of having G.M.O. ingredients from food companies that oppose labeling. Proponents of labeling insist that consumers have a right to know about the ingredients in the food they eat, and they contend that some studies in rats show that bioengineered food can be harmful."