The grocery chain, Whole Foods Market, announced on March 8 that it would require labeling of all of its products that contain genetically modified ingredients (GMO) in its stores in the U.S. and Canada by 2018. This makes it the first national grocery chain in North America to set a deadline for labeling foods containing GMOs. Although Whole Foods in know for being an organic market, it does sell plenty of non-organic items. But organic products will not have to carry the labels, as they don’t contain GMO ingredients by definition.
In a company news release, Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, said, “We are putting a stake in the ground on GMO labeling to support the consumer’s right to know. 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.”
The retailer has been working with many of its suppliers for several years to source products without GMO ingredients. In 2009, the company began putting its 365 Everyday Value line through Non-GMO Project, a nonprofit certification organization. Currently, Whole Foods Market sells 3,300 Non-GMO Project verified products from 250 brands, the largest selection than any other North American retailer. And its seven stores in the U.K. already require labeling for foods that contain GMO ingredients.
While groups such as Just Label It, a campaign for a federal requirement to label all products containing GMO ingredients, are thrilled by the announcement, the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), that represents many of the large makers of GMO seeds such as Monsanto and DuPont, said in a statement, “BIO fully supports the voluntary labeling of products to meet specific demands of consumers in the marketplace. But BIO does not support attempts to label food in a way that is misleading or that confuses consumers – for example, by suggesting that there is a difference in safety or nutrition between biotech food and organic food, when there is none.
BIO’s position is consistent with that of the labeling policy of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which requires that mandatory food labeling present only information regarding nutritional content or health-related characteristics, such as allergenicity or toxicity. These are not concerns that have ever been associated with foods improved through biotechnology.”
Last year, voters in California defeated Proposition 37, a hard-fought initiative that would have required labeling for all GMO foods. According to the Associated Press, the National Academies of Sciences says GMO corn; cotton and soybeans make up more than four-fifths of those crops grown in the U.S.