Whole Foods Market, the nation's leading supermarket chain focused on organic and natural foods, has announced that it will begin labeling all products containing genetically modified ingredients throughout its U.S. and Canadian locations by 2018.
This moves makes Whole Foods the first national grocery chain to set such a deadline and commit to total transparency on the prevalence of genetically modified ingredients.
"We are putting a stake in the ground on GMO labeling to support the consumer’s right to know,” said Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, in a press release. “The prevalence of GMOs in the U.S. paired with nonexistent mandatory labeling makes it very difficult for retailers to source non-GMO options and for consumers to choose non-GMO products. Accordingly, we are stepping up our support of certified organic agriculture, where GMOs are not allowed, and we are working together with our supplier partners to grow our non-GMO supply chain to ensure we can continue to provide these choices in the future.”
Whole Foods came under scrutiny last year for its slow commitment to support California's Proposition 37, which would have made it the first state to require labeling of genetically modified foods had it not lost by a narrow margin last November. The retailer came under attack in 2011 when an investigation found genetically modified ingredients in its private-label cereal brands. And it was also targeted last year by the faceless organization, Organic Spies, in undercover video encounters that showed an overwhelming number of Whole Foods employees (in California) who were misinformed about genetically modified ingredients, particularly when it came to whether or not Whole Foods Market actually carried foods containing GMOs.
Genetically modified foods are widespread in the U.S.; the Grocery Manufacturers Association estimates that 75-80 percent of processed foods contain genetically modified ingredients. Five major U.S.-grown crops: soy, corn, canola, cotton and sugar beets are overwhelmingly genetically modified.
While organic foods by definition cannot be genetically modified, organic ingredients can be mixed with non-organic, potentially GMO ingredients in processed food products. And Whole Foods has admitted that their stores most definitely carry products that contain GMO ingredients.
Currently, the U.S. is the only developed nation without any regulations on GMOs, making it a difficult task for consumers to determine which foods are GMO free. The Non-GMO project is the only third-party verification program in the country.
Proponents of GMO labeling cite a number of reasons for wanting labels on genetically modified foods, mainly so consumers concerned about the human health and environmental impacts can make informed purchasing decisions. “While we are encouraged by the many mandatory labeling initiatives, we are committed to moving forward with our own GMO transparency plan now,” said Robb.
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Image: Whole Foods Market