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Whole Foods to Label Genetically Modified Foods

Whole Foods to Label Genetically Modified Foods

The store will have labels for all GM foods by 2018

In the latest string of GMO labeling news, organic supermarket Whole Foods has announced that all genetically modified products will be labeled in stores by 2018, the AP reports.

According to the company, Whole Foods is the first national grocery chain to set a deadline for labeling GMO foods, something food advocates have been fighting for all year.

Last election, California's Proposition 37 was a hot topics, as it would require all GMO foods to be labeled; the proposition didn't pass, but it got press with support from the likes of Alice Waters, Mario Batali, and Dan Barber.

Genetically modified foods are sort of a hot topic in the industry, as past studies have found that GMO corn was giving rats tumors and organ damage. Whole Foods notes that it sells more than 3,000 GMO-free products, surprising since the Grocery Manufacturers of America quotes up to 75 percent of processed foods have at least one genetically-modified ingredient.

Why Whole Foods decided to label genetically modified foods

This month, Whole Foods became the first retailer in the country to announce that it would require its more than 300 stores to label all food containing genetically modified ingredients.

The move, to be phased in over five years, marked the latest salvo in a decades-long, global fight over the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) such as corn, cotton and soybeans in food. As the use of GMOs in a variety of products has proliferated, so has the argument over whether they are safe for humans and the environment, whether they deserve more scrutiny from regulators and how they should be labeled.

The biotech industry has argued that GMO technologies are a safe way to reduce plant disease, increase crop yields and create a more efficient global food supply. The Food and Drug Administration has said there is no meaningful difference between foods that use organic ingredients and their genetically modified counterparts. Meanwhile, consumer groups and public health activists have continued to raise questions about the long-term effects of genetic manipulation and to push for mandatory labeling requirements throughout the country.

That clash culminated in California last fall with Proposition 37, a measure that would have required labeling of any foods containing genetically engineered ingredients. The measure was narrowly defeated, in part because of opposition funded by Monsanto, DuPont and other companies, which argued that the “flawed” initiative would increase grocery bills, lead to frivolous lawsuits and allow “special interest” exemptions.

Despite its defeat, Prop 37 has helped trigger GMO-labeling initiatives in other states and an upcoming protest at the FDA. It also played a role in the decision by Whole Foods, according to Walter Robb, the Texas-based chain’s co-chief executive.

Robb spoke with The Washington Post about the thinking behind the recent announcement and the ripple effect he hopes it will have. What follows is an edited transcript of that conversation:

Q: I’m curious about the thinking behind this decision and the timing of it.

A: Our company has been in support of mandatory [GMO] labeling for years and years, starting in the 󈨔s. During the last couple years, we really heard a lot from our customers about their desire for labeling. In 2009, we helped to start the Non-GMO Project, which provides the protocols to do Non-GMO tests and Non-GMO labels. Then we had Prop 37. Now there are initiatives in about 20 other states.

As we began to look at our position, I think it became clear that this was a step that we needed to take. Fundamentally, [customers] were right about the fact that food should be labeled so that they had the right to choose. We have a long history of [supporting] that. The timeliness of these events, plus the encouragement of our customers ‘” it all led to us saying this is the step we need to take as a company.

Q: Were there people at Whole Foods who were wary of doing this?

A: Look, this is a big step. We didn’t say some of the product. We said all of the product. So, this is going to be a lot of work. It’s a doable goal. But we need to proceed in a very thoughtful manner.

Internally, we have different points of view on GMO technologies within our team. I think that’s healthy. Particularly over the last six months, we just kept coming back to, “What’s the step here we need to take?” How do you argue with the fact that a customer has a right to know what’s in their food? It’s so fundamental.

It was a consensus decision at the end. But there are different views as to the current practice of GMOs, the future potential of GMOs. This is an issue about the appropriateness of these technologies, the potential of these technologies. Our team is no different than the cross-section of the country. People just think about it in different ways for different reasons.

Q: What about the reaction of your suppliers? Obviously, some welcomed it. For some, I’m sure five years seems like a short time frame.

A: People were surprised. They seemed pleased. Remember, a lot of our suppliers have already moved on this. A percentage of their product is in the Non-GMO Project. We’ve been encouraging them to do that for a few years. We realize this is complicated. The commitment to folks was that we’re going to do this together.

The thing is, it’s a free world. So in five years, if folks don’t want to participate, they don’t have to participate. They just won’t be at Whole Foods.

We want to make sure that every supplier can participate here. If we get started this way, I think we’re going to build the marketplace. Right now, you’ve got organic corn at pretty high prices. Same for soy. If you know there’s going to be a market for products made with non-GMO, organic ingredients, more folks are going to get involved in the production of it. It’s going to put an incentive to increase the acreage and increase the production, because there’s going to be a market for the end ingredient. That’s using the power of the marketplace to create change.

I would hope that this action will spur other actions. Other grocers saying, “Yeah, the time has come.” Other trade associations saying, “Wow, this really is about what our customers want.” And perhaps some of these efforts legislatively may actually lead [to an agreement] that it’s time for some sort of national standards. Labeling is in 60 countries. It’s not like it hasn’t been done before.

Q: So it made sense for Whole Foods, but you’re also trying to use whatever leverage you have in the industry to try to spur change?

A: Absolutely. We think this is the right thing to do, make no mistake about it. Abraham Lincoln said about leadership that you’re representing the collective will of what the people want, but you also are there to provide leadership as best as you can see it. So it’s a combination of both ‘” respect for the people, but also leadership. That’s true for us.

Q: Would you sell products that have GMO ingredients that are labeled? Or would you prefer to be a completely GMO-free store? Is that the end goal?

A: It’s our customers who are going to make those choices. To be clear, right now, GMOs are primarily in five or six crops in the United States. So there are many foods in the store where no GMO technology is involved. Everybody that’s selling food in the United States is probably selling some GMOs now because of the prevalence of them and the lack of the labeling laws. We don’t know, so [customers] don’t know.

I don’t know how this will come out in terms of the labels. It’s not like we’re going to put a skull and crossbones on it. We’re just going to put a label on it and let people make their decisions. We’re not aiming to be a GMO-free store, but we’re aiming to be a 100 percent transparent store.

For customers who want the non-GMO choices, they can choose right now. Organic, by law, doesn’t allow GMO technologies.

Q: You mentioned that you hope this new policy will spread. Have you heard from others in the grocery industry in the past week? Not just suppliers?

A: Anecdotally, there have been folks who have reported conversations with folks within other big companies and other trade associations who have said, “We’ve been thinking about this.” The fact is, a lot of our suppliers supply other folks, too. And a lot of companies that supply us have companies that have non-GMO organic brands. What are they going to do? Are they going to do these efforts for just one part of their company? All this is going to bring these questions to the fore within other companies and other suppliers.

Q: There are people who argue that to require labeling would stigmatize food that really hasn’t been shown to be harmful. What’s your reaction to the notion that, by putting on a label, it inherently signals there’s something wrong with [GMO] food?

A: You could flip that and say that if that’s true, then why would you have a problem labeling it? The fact is, the science is very mixed. Science can be trotted out in both directions.

It’s going to take time to settle some of these questions. Science doesn’t actually settle anything here. Which is why you come back to labeling. At least we can let folks know while we’re waiting to actually see if science is going to render a verdict.

The FDA has made their decision [that GMO crops are “substantially equivalent” to traditional crops], but it obviously has not satisfied people, hence all the activism around this. There’s a lot of concern out there about long-term effects on health and the environment.

Examples of international approaches to labeling


In Canada, special labeling is required for all foods where safety concerns such as allergenicity and compositional or nutritional changes are identified. Labeling must indicate the nature of the change and must be understandable, truthful, and not misleading. Manufacturers can choose to label products to provide information regarding the presence or absence of GM ingredients, so long as the information is factual and neither misleading nor deceptive.

In the US, all foods must be labeled when there are health concerns, differences in use or nutritional value or where the common name no longer adequately describes the food derived from the GM plant. In January 2001, the Food and Drug Administration released a Draft Guidance for the Industry: Voluntary Labeling. The document provides guidance to manufacturers in the appropriate, truthful and non-misleading labeling of foods and provides examples of acceptable and unacceptable labeling language.

European Union/UK

The new EU labeling regulation requires that any food containing GM ingredient or derivative in the amount more than 0.9% will have to be labeled. GM animal feed will also have to be labeled but products of animals fed GM feed, like milk, meat, and eggs, are not required to be labeled.

Since 1997, EC regulation on labeling requires that products intentionally containing GM ingredients must always be labeled, whatever the level of content. The new regulation extend the range of products requiring traceability and labeling by including derived products - those with ingredients derived from a GM source that are not identifiable by analysis - as well as products consisting of or containing GMOs. Labeling is required to vegetable oils and other highly refined products where the genetically modified DNA or resulting protein is no longer present or detectable in the final product. Adventitious presence of GM ingredient no higher than 0.9% requires no labeling.

Australia/New Zealand

Mandatory labeling requirements took effect in December 2001. Labeling is now required in cases where foods have altered characteristics, such as changed nutritional values, or when foods contain novel DNA or protein as a result of genetic modification. Up to 1% unintended contamination is permitted.

  • Foods obtained from GM crops, but which do not contain novel DNA or proteins (oils, sugars, starches etc. from GM soy, corn, and canola)
  • Food additives and processing aids (unless novel DNA or protein is present in the final food product)
  • Flavors (when present at less than 0.1% in the final food product)
  • Food prepared at point of sale (restaurants)
  • Foods obtained from crops that have been genetically modified through techniques other than recombinant DNA


Japan&rsquos Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) is responsible for environmental safety approvals, feed safety approvals and biotech labeling for foods. On April 1, 2001, MAFF established a labeling scheme which requires labeling for biotech food products if the biotech DNA or protein can be scientifically detected in the finished foods.

MAFF regulations require labels for recombinant DNA only if an ingredient is at least 5% of the total weight of the product.


The Korea Food & Drug Administration (KFDA) requires labeling on processed foods that use GM corn, soybean or soybean sprout or when these three goods are among the top five ingredients of a processed food product. Minor ingredients are exempt from labeling requirements. The threshold level of unintentional contamination of GMO to those three ingredients is 3%.

Korea&rsquos Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) also requires labeling for commodity shipments of the three goods if the shipment is destined for direct consumption and if it contains a biotech-enhanced component of 3% or higher.

Identity Preservation (IP) handling certificate is required for no labeling.

Whole Foods and Honest Labeling

I do love the “whole pay check” (aka Whole Foods) but there have been a few icky issues regarding labeling. Just because you walk into the world’s largest “Health Emporium” it doesn’t mean that everything is organic and non-GMO. This came as a huge shock to my husband, who I gave strict instructions to on his last shopping trip there: “Read the labels carefully,” I warned. “Especially in the produce aisles!”

He had no idea that a good 50% of the produce in our local Wholefoods in NOT organic. “So – I not only have to pay and arm and a leg for this stuff,” he retorted. “But, now I have to take a magnifying glass in with me to read labels?”

You really do need to read your labels in health food stores. Just because a store is deemed “healthy,’ or a product is “gluten-free,” it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthier. We have to still be vigilant label-readers.

Wholefoods is now going to make the label-reading issue a little easier for us because it has just announced that it will require mandatory labeling of all foods containing GMO ingredients. They will phase in this initiative over the next 5 years – giving their suppliers time to square it all away. This is a huge decision and very important, because unlike “organic” labeling, where we can choose to buy organic if we want to, we don’t get a choice with GMO. Why? Because most of the time we don’t have a clue whether we are eating genetically-modified ingredients or not. Most soy and corn crops in the US are GMO, and these 2 crops are extremely prevalent on our grocery store shelves.

Some people argue that GMO crops are safe, and others (including Wholefoods,) feel that the long term risks of humans eating genetically-modified organisms, has not been tested adequately. Given the choice personally – I’ll steer clear of anything with a question mark – and I’d really appreciate KNOWING if the foods I’m eating contain ingredients that have this giant question mark.

Propostion 37, which would have required all foods in the state to label GMO ingredients, was narrowly defeated earlier this year because of the staunch opposition (and colossal funding,) by huge food giants, Monsanto and DuPont. This is why Wholefoods’s decision to enforce this labeling sets a high and necessary bar. Many other grocery chains are now going to feel compelled to step up to the plate, too.

It’s about time. Wholefoods in Europe already enforces this labeling policy because consumers are a lot more vociferous about what they want over there. There’s no reason why our right to know in the USA, should be considered less pressing that our friends in Europe. WE DO HAVE THE RIGHT TO KNOW!

So, good for Wholefoods. However, some activists are a little more cynical about the Wholefoods decision – they think that Wholefoods was strong-armed into making it because huge brands such as Coca Cola, Walmart, and Conagra broke ranks with Monsanto in January because they realized that their alliance with this monster biotech corporation, was costing them millions in campaign contributions, and more important, was losing them customer loyalty. If these giants were waking up – well, come on…Wholefoods is supposed to be the healthy guy! Moreover consumers were getting a bit fed up with the “traitor” brands that Wholefoods carried such as Kellogg’s Kashi cereals, which had donated millions to defeat Prop.37.

So, whether WFM was forced into a corner, or whether they are coming from the right place – this week’s decision is going to be a blessing to us all in the long run.

Whole Foods To Require Labels on Genetically Modified Products

Although California voters didn’t back the labeling of products made with genetically modified ingredients, the practice will soon be mandatory at Whole Foods Market Inc.

The chain, known for its upscale emporiums of healthful and organic foods, has decreed that all items sold in its American and Canadian stores note the presence of genetically modified organisms, or GMO, by 2018. The Austin, Texas, company says it’s the first national grocer to set such a deadline.

Whole Foods Co-Chief Executive Walter Robb described customer demand for the labeling as “a steady drumbeat.”

“This is an issue whose time has come,” he said. “With cases like horse meat discovered in the U.K., plastic in milk in China, the recalls of almond and peanut butter in the U.S., customers have a fundamental right to know what’s in their food.”

Activists have long pushed for more transparency on supermarket shelves. Some see Whole Foods’ pledge as evidence of retailers’ growing power to force policy changes when voters and regulators can’t.

“The government has not been willing to take on this issue,” Robb said. “So it’s going to have to happen differently.”

In November, California voters struck down Proposition 37, a controversial ballot measure that would have required labeling of certain genetically modified products.

The grocery industry contends that genetically modified foods provide the same nutrition as organic fruit, vegetables and grains. Agriculture, food and beverage companies opposed to the initiative poured millions of dollars into advertising and lobbying to defeat the measure.

Monsanto Co. dumped $8.1 million into the attack campaign and PepsiCo Inc. contributed $2.5 million, according to a MapLight analysis of data from the California secretary of state. By voting day, opponents had raised $46 million against Proposition 37 — five times the $9.2 million cobbled together by supporters.

Whole Foods had endorsed the measure. The business has more than 300 locations, including seven British stores that already require such labeling.

The company says it carries 3,300 products from 250 brands that are certified as free of genetically modified organisms.

“We are growing, we need more supply and that’s compelling for manufacturers who want to be part of that,” Robb said of the chain’s new labeling initiative. “If a supplier chooses not to do that, they won’t be in Whole Foods.”

Elsewhere in the food industry, major restaurant chains and suppliers are using their influence to shift views on issues such as animal welfare, sustainability and nutrition.

After years of pressure from animal rights advocates, brands such as Burger King and Smithfield Foods plan to exclusively use suppliers who offer eggs from cage-free hens, pork from humanely treated animals and similar products.

Wal-Mart and McDonald’s have thrown their backing behind sustainable seafood labeling. Promises to reduce sodium and calorie content by Olive Garden and Red Lobster parent Darden garnered praise from First Lady Michelle Obama.

Whether such businesses are motivated by goodwill, the promise of profit from sympathetic consumers or the threat of impending legislation is unclear. But Whole Foods’ move will be copied by competitors, said Scott Faber, vice president for government affairs for the advocacy organization Environmental Working Group.

“Clearly, they’re going to be the first of many retailers who will require labeling as a condition of sale in their stores,” he said.

But for now, tackling the crusade on genetically modified organisms will be tricky, said James Richardson, senior vice president of food research firm Hartman Strategy.

Other trends propelled by large retailers have the benefit of being easy to understand. The low-sugar push, the gluten-free movement and more “aren’t hard to grasp and are tied to immediate, palpable concerns such as digestive health and weight,” Richardson said.

Concerns about genetically modified food, however, are a fairly new phenomenon and are often steeped in complicated science. Until more companies choose to label products featuring modified DNA, the main consumer reaction to isolated efforts such as Whole Foods’ order will be puzzlement, Richardson said.

“There’s not a big interest among mainstream consumers in avoiding GMO because it requires them to have a fairly complex, intellectual sense of what it even means and why it’s a problem,” he said. “Sugar is much more terrifying than an abstract fear like that.”

Major Grocer to Label Foods With Gene-Modified Content

Whole Foods Market, the grocery chain, on Friday became the first retailer in the United States to require labeling of all genetically modified foods sold in its stores, a move that some experts said could radically alter the food industry.

A. C. Gallo, president of Whole Foods, said the new labeling requirement, to be in place within five years, came in response to consumer demand. “We’ve seen how our customers have responded to the products we do have labeled,” Mr. Gallo said. “Some of our manufacturers say they’ve seen a 15 percent increase in sales of products they have labeled.”

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. The announcement ricocheted around the food industry and excited proponents of labeling. “Fantastic,” said Mark Kastel, co-director of the Cornucopia Institute, an organic advocacy group that favors labeling.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, the trade group that represents major food companies and retailers, issued a statement opposing the move. “These labels could mislead consumers into believing that these food products are somehow different or present a special risk or a potential risk,” Louis Finkel, the organization’s executive director of government affairs, said in the statement.

Mr. Finkel noted that the Food and Drug Administration, as well as regulatory and scientific bodies including the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association, had deemed genetically modified products safe.

The labeling requirements announced by Whole Foods will include its 339 stores in the United States and Canada. Since labeling is already required in the European Union, products in its seven stores in Britain are already marked if they contain genetically modified ingredients. The labels currently used show that a product has been verified as free of genetically engineered ingredients by the Non GMO Project, a nonprofit certification organization. The labels Whole Foods will use in 2018, which have yet to be created, will identify foods that contain such ingredients.

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.

Gary Hirshberg, chairman of Just Label It, a campaign for a federal requirement to label foods containing genetically modified ingredients, called the Whole Foods decision a “game changer.”

“We’ve had some pretty big developments in labeling this year,” Mr. Hirshberg said, adding that 22 states now have some sort of pending labeling legislation. “Now, one of the fastest-growing, most successful retailers in the country is throwing down the gantlet.”

He compared the potential impact of the Whole Foods announcement to Wal-Mart’s decision several years ago to stop selling milk from cows treated with growth hormone. Today, only a small number of milk cows are injected with the hormone.

Karen Batra, a spokeswoman for BIO, a trade group representing the biotech industry, said it was too early to determine what impact, if any, the Whole Foods decision would have. “It looks like they want to expand their inventory of certified organic and non-G.M.O. lines,” Ms. Batra said. “The industry has always supported the voluntary labeling of food for marketing reasons.”

She contended, however, that without scientific evidence showing that genetically modified foods caused health or safety issues, labeling was unnecessary.

Nonetheless, companies have shown a growing willingness to consider labeling. Some 20 major food companies, as well as Wal-Mart, met recently in Washington to discuss genetically modified labeling.

Coincidentally, the American Halal Company, a food company whose Saffron Road products are sold in Whole Foods stores, on Friday introduced the first frozen food, a chickpea and spinach entree, that has been certified not to contain genetically modified ingredients.

More than 90 percent of respondents to a poll of potential voters in the 2012 elections, conducted by the Mellman Group in February last year, were in favor of labeling genetically modified foods. Some 93 percent of Democrats and 89 percent of Republicans in the poll, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percent, favored it.

But in the fight over the California initiative, Proposition 37, the opponents succeeded in persuading voters that labeling would have a negative effect on food prices and the livelihood of farmers.

That fight, however, has cost food companies in other ways. State legislatures and regulatory agencies are pondering labeling on their own, and consumers have been aggressive in criticizing some of the companies that fought the initiative, using Twitter and Facebook to make their views known.

Buoyed by what they see as some momentum in the labeling war, consumers, organic farmers and food activists plan to hold an “eat-in” outside the F.D.A.’s offices next month to protest government policies on genetically modified crops and foods. Whole Foods, which specializes in organic products, tends to be favored by those types of consumers, and it enjoys strong sales of its private-label products, whose composition it controls. The company thus risks less than some more traditional food retailers in taking a stance on labeling.

In 2009, Whole Foods began submitting products in its 365 Everyday Value private-label line to verification by the Non GMO Project.

But even Whole Foods has not been immune to criticism on the G.M.O. front. A report by Cornucopia, “Cereal Crimes,” revealed that its 365 Corn Flakes line contained genetically modified corn. By the time the report came out in October 2011, the product had been reformulated and certified as organic.

Today, Whole Foods’ shelves carry some 3,300 private-label and branded products that are certified, the largest selection of any grocery chain in the country.

Mr. Gallo said Whole Foods did not consult with its suppliers about its decision and informed them of it only shortly before making its announcement Friday. He said Whole Foods looked forward to working with suppliers on the labeling.

Whole Foods to label all genetically modified products

Austin-based Whole Foods Market recently announced plans to label all genetically engineered foods in its stores by 2018. The upscale, earth-loving grocery chain has the most non-genetically engineered products of any retailer in North America — nearly 3,000 different items. But spokesperson Kate Lowery said the move to label genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, came from a decision to be more transparent.

“It’s really about the consumer’s right to know and Whole Foods giving them the information they need to make conscious choices,” Lowery says. “We believe that quality and transparency are inseparable.”

“It’s very complex,” says Whole Foods spokesperson Kate Lowery. “We can’t just say, ‘Let’s get rid of GMOs.’ But we think this is a big step.”

Whole Foods first began labeling non-GMO foods in 2009 as part of the Non-GMO Project that resulted in its 365 Everyday Value brand. The products went through a testing process to ensure none of the components was affected genetically.

Whole Foods decided that it would be a better approach to label those products that were genetically engineered as a way to make customers aware.

“We don’t have a magic wand,” Lowery says. “But we’re going down the supply chain and working with our supply partners. They’re the ones labeling and sourcing, but we want to it in a viable way and in partnership with our vendors.”

The process will take five years, primarily because a lot of products contain soybeans, corn and canola seeds, and 90 percent of those crops are modified.

In fact, last year, Whole Foods, along with Trader Joe’s, refused to carry Monsanto’s genetically modified sweet corn. Walmart took the corn, which isn’t the only version on the market. Sygenta has produced genetically modified corn for a decade.

Other issues include labeling meat from animals that might have consumed GMO grains as well as working with a large base of vendors.

“We have more than 100,000 different suppliers,” Lowery says. “It’s very complex. We can’t just say, ‘Let’s get rid of GMOs.’ But we think this is a big step. We’re putting a stake in the ground and saying that we’re going to do this.”

Despite the work that will go in to the process, Lowery believes that the costs won’t be prohibitive and that the vast majority of their vendors are on board.

“We don’t anticipate that it’ll be extremely costly,” Lowery says. “If you look at what’s been happening with our non-GMO products or the mandatory labeling in Europe, the costs didn’t go up significantly.”

Whole Foods will be announcing key milestones along the way whenever a department fulfills its labeling requirements. Produce, Lowery says, will be among the first, because there are so few items compared to other departments.

Part of the hope is that this announcement will spur conversation within state and federal legislatures to move to mandatory labeling for all retailers. Retailers are currently not required to label which products are genetically modified. Lowery feels that if Whole Foods can prove labeling is viable option, then other companies will follow suit.

“People are looking to avoid GMOs and want to know which products and crops come from GMOs,” she says. “We hope there’s a ripple effect for the consumer’s right to know what’s in the food they purchase for themselves and their families.”

Whole Foods to Label Genetically Modified Food

Whole Foods says all products in its North American stores that contain genetically modified ingredients will be labeled as such by 2018. The company says it’s the first national grocery chain to set such a deadline for labeling foods that contain genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. A spokeswoman for the supermarket operator said organic foods will not have to carry the labels since they do not contain genetically modified ingredients by definition.

I do hope that companies that genetically modify foods won’t act like Monsanto did when milk companies began to label their products as coming from cows not treated with rBGH (a growth hormone). Monsanto sued to stop such labeling on the ground that since the FDA had approved the use of the hormone in cows as safe, the mere act of labeling implied that milk from treated cows was less beneficial than that from untreated cows. The sue-them into-submission-strategy was only partially successful. Many companies now label their milk as BGH (or BST) free–although some add a modifier that there is no evidence of a safety difference to keep the bullies from Monsanto or the FDA from pounding on their doors.

It’s really a simple matter of market economics: Many consumers simply want to know whether food products have GMO ingredients:

Whole Foods Market, Inc., is nevertheless seeing growing demand for products that don’t use GMOs. Products that get a “Non-GMO” verification label see sales spike between 15 percent and 30 percent, said A.C. Gallo, president of Whole Foods. In non-perishable groceries, he said the two fastest growing areas are organic and non-GMO products.

Labeling is an appropriate way to cater to these markets. Whole Foods should have every right to help customers avoid foods they don’t want to eat–and it doesn’t matter whether modified foods are just as safe as unmodified. Ditto companies that want to boast on its labels that its products are not genetically altered, as in the BGH approach. It’s known as capitalism.

Whole Foods to label genetically modified products

NEW YORK (AP) — Whole Foods says all products in its North American stores that contain genetically modified ingredients will be labeled as such by 2018.

The company says it's the first national grocery chain to set such a deadline for labeling foods that contain genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. A spokeswoman for the supermarket operator said organic foods will not have to carry the labels since they do not contain genetically modified ingredients by definition.

Although Whole Foods is known as an organic grocer, it also sells a wide array of non-organic products.

The use of GMOs has been a growing issue in recent years, with health advocates pushing for mandatory labeling even though the federal government and many scientists say the ingredients are safe.

The science behind genetically modified organisms is not new. Biotech scientists say that genetic manipulation is a way to reduce disease and enrich plants, raising productivity and increasing the global food supply. According to the National Academies of Sciences, genetically modified corn, cotton and soybeans account for more than four-fifths of those crops grown in the U.S.

In a statement, the Biotechnology Industry Organization, which represents Monsanto, DuPont and other makers of genetically modified seeds, said that it supports the voluntary labeling for people who seek out such products. But since the FDA says there's no difference between foods that have been improved with biotechnology and their organic counterparts, the group said mandatory labeling would only mislead or confuse consumers.

Whole Foods Market Inc. is nevertheless seeing growing demand for products that don't use GMOs. Products that get a "Non-GMO" verification label see sales spike between 15 percent and 30 percent, said A.C. Gallo, president of Whole Foods. In non-perishable groceries, he said the two fastest growing areas are organic and non-GMO products.

Products that don't use any GMOs are more expensive given the tighter supplies of such ingredients, Gallo said. But he said he hoped the announcement would "open up the market" for more non-GMO crops.

Whole Foods, based in Austin, Texas, also has seven stores in the United Kingdom, where labeling is already required for foods that contain GMO ingredients. Gallo said there aren't many products there that have GMO ingredients as a result.

Patty Lovera of Food and Water Watch, a consumer and environmental advocacy group, called the Whole Foods announcement a "smart move." Her group and others have been pushing for a federal law requiring labeling on all genetically modified foods.

"We're continuing to work to make this label mandatory because everyone deserves to have that label, not just Whole Foods shoppers," Lovera said. "But I think it's smart on their part to start giving consumers what they want, which is more information."

Last year, California voters shot down an initiative that would have required such labels. Gallo said the Whole Foods push will be more exhaustive than that initiative because it will require labeling for meats and dairy products if the animals were fed GMO grains.

Given the widespread use of GMO grains to feed farm animals, Gallo said the push would be a "huge undertaking."

Whole Foods says it has been working with suppliers for years to source products that don't have GMO ingredients. It says it currently sells more than 3,000 products have gone through the non-GMO verification process, more than any other retailer in North America.

Whole Foods will label GMO foods

Whole Foods says all products in its North American stores will have labels disclosing if they contain genetically modified ingredients by 2018.

The company says it’s the first national grocery chain to set such a deadline for labeling foods that contain genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. A spokeswoman for Whole Foods said organic foods will not have to carry the labels since they do not contain GMOs by definition. Although Whole Foods is known as an organic grocer, it also sells a wide array of non-organic products.

Whole Foods Market Inc. notes that it has been working with suppliers for years to source products that don’t have GMO ingredients. It says it currently sells more than 3,000 products have gone through the non-GMO verification process, more than any other retailer in North America.

The use of GMOs has been a growing issue in recent years, with health advocates pushing for mandatory labeling. Last year, California voters shot down an initiative that would have required such labels. As various efforts continue for GMO labeling, Whole Foods said it would move ahead with its own plans.

A spokeswoman for Whole Foods noted that its stores in the United Kingdom already have GMO labeling, in compliance with national regulations.

Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods, said the issue was about “the consumer’s right to know.”

Patty Lovera of Food and Water Watch, a consumer and environmental advocacy group, called the Whole Foods announcement a “smart move.” Her group and others have been pushing for a federal law requiring labeling on all genetically modified foods.

“We’re continuing to work to make this label mandatory because everyone deserves to have that label, not just Whole Food shoppers,” Lovera said. “But I think it’s smart on their part to start giving consumers what they want, which is more information.”