The natural and organic grocery chain Whole Foods Market has announced it will require labeling of all products it carries that contain genetically engineered, GMO ingredients by the year 2018. With several states facing popular movements and legislative drives to require GMO labeling, Whole Foods’ move suggests it’s seen the writing on the wall.
Whole Foods is not the first natural/organic grocery supplier to deal with GMOs. The online organic grocery shopOrganic relaunched it business last year and declared it would offer only GMO-free products (link no longer available). While both businesses claim altruistic motivations, they’re also aware of the bottom line. Says shopOrganic in its press release, “Recent studies show that more than 90% of Americans would like to know whether or not their food contains genetically modified organisms (GMO’s). ” Whole Foods states that Non-GMO Project-verified products are “among the fastest growing sellers” in their non-perishable grocery category. Whole Foods decision recalls Walmart’s commitment to organic foods: a chance to claim an interest in consumers’ health that also contributes to the bottom line.
Many consumers are already questioning Whole Foods decision to take five years to implement the labeling policy (see the comments section to The New York Times article above). Regarding that lag time, Whole Foods states, “…we wanted to give our supplier partners enough time to make this change. Fortunately, many of our suppliers are already well on their way to moving to Non-GMO ingredients and a good number are already there. While five years is the deadline, we know there will be progress much sooner and we plan to announce key milestones along the way.” Unsaid is the fact that the next five years should see major progress in labeling initiatives in states across the country and may even see progress on a national labeling requirement. That might leave Whole Foods well ahead of other marketers when it comes to labeling.
Whole Foods has not been above controversy in a variety of areas, including fish supplies, employee relations, certain kinds of public health proposals, and other business practices. Others find it a corporate model. One thing we know is true: the larger the business, the more complex the health, safety, and other ethical issues for consumers who deal with them. And when it comes to what you eat, growing your own — sustainably, organically — is the best guarantee that what you put on the family dinner table is as healthy as you can make it.