Whole Foods says GMO labeling is a requirement for all foods sold in its stores in a move that some believe will radically alter the industry.
The genetically modified labeling requirement is a first for any retailer in the United States. It comes as debate over GMO labeling is ongoing.
Genetically modified ingredients have been around since the 1990s and the majority of the corn and soybeans in America are modified. Alterations made to soybeans make them resistant to herbicide, while corn is modified to produce its own insecticide.
A.C. Gallo, the president of Whole Foods, stated that the new GMO labeling requirement will take place within five years. Gallo added that the decision was made in large part because of customer demand. He explained, “We’ve seen how our customers have responded to the products we do have labeled. Some of our manufacturers say they’ve seen a 15 percent increase in sales of products they have labeled.”
Many consumers and activists have been calling for GMO labeling for years. The topic came to a vote in California during the last election, though it was defeated. Gary Hirshberg, chairman of the campaign Just Label It, called the decision by Whole Foods a “game changer.”
He added that Whole Foods’ GMO labeling decision is much like the one made by Walmart several years ago. The mega retailer decided not to sell milk from cows treated with a growth hormone. Only a few retailers still sell milk from cows injected with the hormone. But the decision was not met with complete approval.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association, a trade group that represents major food companies and retailers, expressed its criticism of the labeling requirement. Louis Finkel, the organization’s executive director of government affairs, released a statement saying, “These labels could mislead consumers into believing that these food products are somehow different or present a special risk or a potential risk.”
Finkel added that several organizations, including the Food and Drug Administration, the World Health Organization, and the American Medical Association, have deemed GMO foods safe for consumption. The Whole Foods GMO labeling requirement applies to the retail locations in the United States and Canada. The stores in the European Union already have the requirement, because it is mandatory.
While voters turned down the labeling initiative in California, similar initiatives qualified for the ballot in Washington State and Missouri. Consumers across the country have also waged wars on products suspected of containing GMO foods by placing stickers on them to warn other consumers.
Supporters of the GMO labeling initiative believe that customers have the right to know what they are eating and to know what goes into those ingredients. They also contend that some research studies in rats show that GMO foods can be harmful and may even cause cancer.
Karen Batra, a spokeswoman for trade group BIO, believes it is too early to tell what impact the Whole Foods GMO labeling requirement will have, if there is an impact at all. She explained, “It looks like they want to expand their inventory of certified organic and non-G.M.O. lines. The industry has always supported the voluntary labeling of food for marketing reasons.”
Batra added, however, that labeling isn’t needed, because there is no scientific evidence showing that GMO foods cause health or safety issues.
Do you think that Whole Foods’ GMO labeling requirement is a good thing, or could it be detrimental to food producers?
[Image by WhisperToMe (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons]