Tell Whole Foods to Get Back on Track in Labeling GMOs

Whole Foods Quietly Put Its Comprehensive Labeling Policy on Hold

As USDA’s proposal to use smiley face labels for genetically engineered (GE) foods or genetically engineered organisms (GMOs) nears implementation, it is more essential than ever that retailers step up to identify genetically engineered foods in their stores. Five years ago, Whole Foods Market announced a plan to label food with GE ingredients sold in its stores. Whole Foods’ plan requires a label for all GE food sold in its stores by the end of 2018, noting that the move was made in response to customers’ increased demand for labeled products. “Some of our manufacturers say they’ve seen a 15 percent increase in sales of products they have labeled [as non–GMO],” explains A.C. Gallo, Whole Foods president and chief operating officer. The chain’s labeling requirements include all of its North American stores, as its European supermarkets already require this label. Consumers Reports found that 92% of people surveyed (2014) want their food labeled for ingredients that are genetically engineered.

 >> Tell Whole Foods and owner Amazon to Get Back on Track in Labeling GMOs. 

In an email to suppliers on May 18, 2018, Whole Foods’ Mr. Gallo announced that the company, which has recently been acquired by Amazon, would pause its GE labeling requirements in response to suppliers’ concerns about having to comply with two competing sets of rules –Whole Foods’ own labeling requirements and rules newly proposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which were then open for public comment.
 As currently written, Whole Foods’ requirements would be more stringent than the proposed USDA rules in at least two significant ways. First, USDA has suggested letting companies label GE ingredients by QR code, meaning that customers would need to be directed to a website via smartphone to find out what’s in their food, while Whole Foods never planned to allow QR codes as disclosures. Second, USDA rules contain exemptions for meat products, which are regulated under a different system.
The USDA proposed rule fails in every important respect:
·       It allows information to be conveyed by QR codes, whose use requires a cell phone (with camera function) and a reliable broadband connection.
·       It allows GE food to be identified as “bioengineered” or by a smiley-faced symbol containing the letters “be.”
·       It does not cover highly processed GE foods, like vegetable oils or sugar, and does not include newer genetic engineering techniques, such as CRISPR (a gene editing tool).
·       Implementation is delayed. 

Given the problems with the USDA proposed rule, including delay in implementation until 2022, it is important for Whole Foods to get back on schedule. Other retailers will certainly follow its lead.

>> Tell Whole Foods and owner Amazon to Get Back on Track in Labeling GMOs.

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