Whole Foods takes stand on GMO labels

Whole Foods Market is putting a stake in the ground on GMOs.

As the first national supermarket chain to make this commitment, Whole Foods will require all products sold in its stores with GMOs to be labeled by 2018, in both the U.S. and Canada.

This could be an important precedent that other supermarket chains could follow.

When Monsanto's GMO sweet corn was approved last year, Whole Foods vowed not to sell it.

Suppliers have five years to either source non-GMO ingredients or to clearly label products that have ingredients containing GMOs. Many suppliers are already working on this, the company says, and a "a good number are already there."

While five years from now is the deadline, Whole Foods says it will see progress much sooner and will announce key milestones along the way.

"We heard our customers loud and clear asking us for GMO labeling and we are responding where we have control: in our own stores," says the company.

This is the reasoning:

"We are putting a stake in the ground on GMO labeling to support the consumer's right to know," says Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods, in a statement. "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."

Currently, the only way consumers can be sure the food they buy don't contain GMOs is by buying certified organic.

Whole Foods private label line, 365 Everyday Value, has been GMO-free for years, it says, and since 2009, it's been verified through the Non-GMO Project, which analyzes food for the presence of GMOs.

The Non-GMO Project verified products from 250 brands currently sold in Whole Foods, more than any other retailer in North America, says the company. You can find these products here.

Whole Foods was criticized for not actively supporting (kicking in money) the GMO labeling referendum in California this past November.

At the last minute, it formally announced support for Prop 37 and used radio ads and social media to get the word out.

Since the defeat of Prop 37, organizers in 30 states are now working on initiatives to require GMO labels. Whole Foods is more actively supporting these efforts.

Photo of a Whole Foods store provided by Dwight Burdette via Wikimedia Commons.

This story is reprinted with permission from Sustainable Business.