Associations Mixed on Whole Foods’ GMO Labeling Plan

While one association has long pushed for labeling on genetically modified foods, another worries that the organic food chain's decision could cause confusion in the marketplace.

It won’t happen tomorrow, but Whole Foods is getting ready to break some genetically modified ground.

On Friday, the largest organic food retailer in the country announced that, by 2018, it will require genetically modified foods (GMOs) to be labeled as such before they reach stores, according to The New York Times.

This is a change for Whole Foods, which currently labels organic or natural foods, such as its own 365 house brand, via the Non-GMO Project. The nonprofit organization verifies foods for being free of genetically engineered ingredients. Considering that GMOs are a large part of the global food supply, Whole Foods’ stance puts it in a class of its own.

“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,” the company’s co-CEOs, Walter Robb and A.C. Gallo, said in a statement.

What some associations have said about the decision:

Favoring the change: The Organic Consumers Association (OCA), a nonprofit dedicated to fair trade standards for organic foods, is largely supportive of the decision. “We are pleased that Whole Foods has finally recognized consumers’ right to know about GMOs,” said the group’s national director, Ronnie Cummins, in a statement. “This is a major victory for U.S. consumers who have for far too long been denied basic information which would enable them to make safe, healthy food choices.” However, the association hasn’t always seen eye-to-eye with the chain about the labeling issue, and in the past has published criticism of Whole Foods’ stance on GMOs—such as an article last June covering a Missouri protest against the group’s prior practices.

Opposed to the move: The Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents the interests of major food manufacturers, released a statement opposing the requirements. “These labels could mislead consumers into believing that these food products are somehow different or present a special risk or a potential risk,” GMA’s executive director of government affairs Louis Finkel said, according to the Times.

There is no scientific evidence that GMOs cause health or safety issues; however, Whole Foods is not the first to consider labeling genetically enhanced foods. About 20 major food companies, including Wal-Mart, met in January to discuss label requirements for foods containing genetically modified ingredients.

(David Shankbone/Flickr)

Anita Ferrer

By Anita Ferrer

Anita Ferrer is a contributor to Associations Now. MORE

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