On Friday, Whole Foods Market announced that by 2018, all genetically modified (GMO) foods in their stores will be labeled. A.C. Gallo, president of Whole Foods, said the decision to require labels on all GMO-containing products in its 339 stores throughout the U.S. and Canada was driven by consumer demand.
“We’ve seen how our customers have responded to the products we do have labeled,” Gallo said. “Some of our manufacturers say they’ve seen a 15% increase in sales of products they have labeled.” Gallo added that he hoped the announcement would “open up the market” for more non-GMO crops and non-GMO animal feed.
Several states—most notably California—have been defeated in their attempts to enforce mandatory GMO labels in grocery stores, but “now one of the fastest-growing, most successful retailers in the country is throwing down the gauntlet,” said Gary Hirshberg, chairman of Stonyfield Farm and board chair of Organic Voices. “Whole Foods is doing the right thing for consumers by giving them more information about what is in their food. We urge other business leaders to work with us to give every American the same right as consumers in 62 other countries. More than 90% of Americans want the right to know whether their food contains genetically engineered ingredients so that they can make the best choices for their families.”
Since their entrance into the food supply in the 1990s, GMOs have become increasingly prevalent in foods and even nutritional supplements. Unbeknownst to many Americans, they are secretly lurking under seemingly healthy ingredient names, one example being vitamin C as ascorbic acid, which is typically derived from GMO corn.
“People think that health food stores are a kind of haven from things like GMOs,” Joe Lemieux, owner of the Go To Health store in Brooksville, Florida, told Natural Foods Manufacturer. “That’s why this issue is so explosive, because I can’t tell them that the vitamin C is made without GMOs.”
According to Just Label It!, a campaign created to advocate for the labeling of GMO foods, several National Academy of Sciences studies have affirmed that genetically engineered crops have the potential to introduce new toxins or allergens into food and the environment. Yet, unlike the strict safety evaluations for approval of new drugs, there are no mandatory human clinical trials of genetically engineered crops and no tests for carcinogenicity or harm to fetuses. And in recent years several studies have found that GMO consumption leads to infertility and farmers have testified that GMO corn feed has sterilized their livestock. While GMOs were first introduced with the promise of higher crop yields, the only things that have increased are the use of toxic herbicides and pesticides, the number of resistant weeds and bugs, contaminated crops and chemical industry profits.
Ronnie Cummins, National Director of the Organic Consumers Association, said the new Whole Foods labeling announcement “represents a major defeat for Monsanto and the rest of the biotech industry who have been deceiving consumers since they first conspired more than 20 years ago with the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to falsely convince consumers that genetically modified foods are no different than foods that don’t contain organisms created by manipulating DNA in laboratories or by injecting seeds with bacteria and pesticides.”
Until the Whole Foods labels hit stores in five years, shoppers can avoid consuming GMO ingredients by looking for products stamped with the Non-GMO Project Verified label. And despite the unsuccessful efforts of states before them, Hawaii, New Mexico, Missouri, Vermont and Washington are currently fighting for statewide GMO labeling. A bill to push for the initiative nationwide was announced by Congressman Jared Polis (D-Colorado) this past February.
“Everyone deserves to have that label, not just Whole Foods shoppers,” said Patty Lovera of Food and Water Watch.