Whole Foods Market Delays GMO Labeling Deadline for Suppliers

For Presence Marketing Newsletter, June 2018
By Steven Hoffman

In an email sent to suppliers in May 2018 from Whole Foods Market President and COO A.C. Gallo, Global VP of Merchandising Don Clark and Global VP of Procurement for Perishables Karen Christensen, the world’s largest natural products retailer announced the company has decided to postpone the rollout of its GMO Labeling Policy.

The company’s leaders cited concerns from suppliers about complying with both Whole Foods Market’s upcoming policy deadline, originally set for Sept. 1, 2018, and the USDA’s proposed GMO labeling rules just introduced this past month, dubbed the federal Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard, as the reason for the delay.

In 2013, Whole Foods announced it would require all food producers who wished to sell products in its stores to include labeling that discloses the presence of any GMO ingredients. Whole Foods had previously announced that it would require suppliers to label products that contain genetically modified (GMO) risk ingredients and were not third-party verified as non-GMO or organic.

“While the proposed [USDA] rule speaks to requirements for disclosing a bioengineered food, it is silent on requirements for making an on-label non-GMO claim,” the email said. “Given the uncertain details of the federal regulation, we do not expect the verification of non-GMO claims on existing branded products by the previously communicated September 1, 2018, deadline.” Whole Foods’ executives further stated, “Once there is a better understanding of the final federal regulation, we will be able to provide further updates and timelines.”

In a May 22, 2018, statement to Food & Wine Magazine clarifying its position, Whole Foods added, "As the USDA finalizes the Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard and the food industry assesses the impact, we have decided to pause on our September 1, 2018, deadline for our GMO Labeling Policy. We remain committed to providing our customers with the level of transparency they want and expect from us and will continue to require suppliers to obtain third-party verification for non-GMO claims."

In a separate document, Whole Foods noted that it will continue to require suppliers in all categories to acquire third-party verification by a Whole Foods-approved program for “non-GMO” claims on their package labels. Approved vendors include The Non-GMO Project, NSF Non-GMO True North or the USDA Organic program, reported Project Nosh.

Steven Hoffman is Managing Director of Compass Natural, providing brand marketing, PR, social media, and strategic business development services to natural, organic and sustainable products businesses. Contact steve@compassnaturalmarketing.com.