GMO Update: Whole Foods Market to Require GMO Transparency

This past month marked a number of important developments in the ongoing debate to label genetically engineered or GMO foods, including the following news items.

Whole Foods Market Announces Mandatory GMO Labeling in Stores by 2018
Not waiting for the government to take the lead in the labeling of genetically engineered or GMO foods, Whole Foods Market announced at Natural Products Expo West that it will require GMO transparency for any products sold in its stores by 2018, making it the first national grocery chain to set a deadline to label foods that contain GMO ingredients.

Whole Foods also will require labeling for meat and dairy products if the animals were fed GMO grains. Certified organic foods will not have to carry the label since by definition, organic foods are prohibited from using GMO crops or ingredients. According to Co-CEO A.C. Gallo, the nation’s leading natural and organic products grocer is seeing sales increases of 15% to 30% for non-GMO verified products. Whole Foods told USA Today that is currently sells more than 3,000 products that have gone through the non-GMO verification process, more than any other retailer in North America. Additionally, Whole Foods Market, Aldi’s and Trader Joe’s announced that they would not sell genetically engineered salmon, if FDA approves it. “We are committed to full GMO transparency within five years,” said Whole Foods Co-CEO Walter Robb.

Washington State’s I-522 Leads State GMO Labeling Efforts
After submitting more than 300,000 signatures, Washington State’s I-522, the People’s Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act, is considered by many to be the best bet to achieve mandatory GMO labeling in 2013. In February and March, Washington State legislators held hearings, which included testimony from Robert Maquire, an attorney for the pro-GMO biotech lobby, who argued that GMO labeling is not in the public interest. George Kimbrell, an attorney for the nonprofit Center for Food Safety who helped create the GMO labeling measure, disagreed, saying the issue is “a far cry from mere consumer curiosity.” Kimbrell asserted that I-522 would not lead to frivolous lawsuits or increase costs to consumers. Unless the state legislature passes the measure as it stands, which is a rare occurrence, according to the Seattle Times, the I-522 bill will go before voters in the November election. A number of other states are pursuing GMO labeling legislation, including Vermont, Connecticut and Oregon. Efforts in other states, however, including Hawaii, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, were defeated or postponed in legislative committees before ever seeing the light of day. However, GMO labeling advocates in both California and Colorado say they’ll be back in 2014. To support and contribute to I-522, visit www.labelitwa.org or contact Steven Hoffman, steve@compassnatural.com.

NPA Calls for National GMO Labeling Standard
After taking heat for coming out against California’s Prop 37 GMO labeling bill in 2012, the Natural Products Association in March called for national GMO labeling. “This is really very simple – people have a right to know what’s in their food,” said NPA’s Executive Director John Shaw. Shaw indicated that a national standard would be best and that different state and local requirements would be counterproductive. Mark Squire, owner of Good Earth Natural Foods in Fairfax, CA, and a proponent of Prop 37, told New Hope 360 that he applauds NPA’s stand, however he hopes to see NPA back Washington State's I-522 GMO labeling bill "because there is a great deal of precedent for laws starting at the state level and then being adopted at the national level. The Obama administration could require labeling immediately, but the question is does anyone in D.C. have the political backbone to listen to the American people when it would require ignoring such a powerful and moneyed lobby as biotech? It may be that passing a law in a state is the only way to get national regulation on this topic," he said.

NPA’s position statement contains five points:

  • NPA believes consumers have the right to be informed whether genetically modified components are in their foods.
  • NPA supports and encourages the voluntary labeling on non-GMO foods.
  • NPA believes that consideration of federal law promoting a uniform standard is warranted to avoid separate standards for GMO labeling at the state level.
  • NPA opposes a private enforcement provision, which encourages abusive litigation, to impose compliance.
  • NPA supports the FDA consistently reviewing the concept of bio-equivalency of genetically modified ingredients in light of the most recent scientific studies.

Rep. Jared Polis Announces Federal GMO Labeling Bill
US Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) announced in late February that he will introduce a federal bill to require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered or GMO foods. The GMO Labeling Bill will be co-sponsored by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and in the Senate by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA). “I am proud to help lead the GMO Labeling Bill, which is all about consumer choice and information. It’s important to empower people with the information they need to make their own healthy choices. People have the right to make consumer decisions based on accurate transparency in labeling, and knowledge is power,” Polis said in a press conference held in the new Alfalfa’s Market in Boulder. More than 90% of Americans support labeling of GMO foods, according to a 2012 Mellman Group survey.

Last Minute “Monsanto Protection Act” Takes Away Courts’ Right to Limit GMO Crops In an era of 11th hour budget battles in Washington, D.C., non-GMO advocates are railing over a section introduced at the last minute by an “anonymous” congressman in a federal agricultural appropriations bill called HR 933. The short-term resolution, signed on March 26 by President Obama, contains language dubbed the “Monsanto Protection Act.” Specifically, section 735 of the bill “would limit judges to stop Monsanto or the farmers it sells genetically modified seeds from growing or harvesting those crops even if courts find evidence of potential health risks,” according to the New York Daily News. Advocates are primarily upset over the seemingly blatant collaboration with the biotech industry on the rider in the bill. “Why is this such a big deal?” asked public health attorney Michele Simon in her blog Appetite for Profit. “The court system is often our last hope, with Congress, the White House and regulatory agencies deep inside industry’s pocket. Several legal challenges have resulted in court decisions overturning USDA’s approval of new GMO crops, for example, sugar beets,” she said. Despite the best efforts of Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) – the only organic farmer in Congress – the biotech rider was pushed through. “These provisions are giveaways, pure and simple, and will be a boon worth millions of dollars to a handful of the biggest corporations in this country,” he said.

Note: This article was originally published in the March 2013 issue of Presence News, published by Presence Marketing/Dynamic Presence.