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Shareholders Applaud Whole Foods Decision to Label In-House Foods as GE-Free or Not

At the April 4, 2005 shareholder meeting, Whole Foods made the announcement that they will begin to label their house brand products with regard to GMOs. While this decision is very welcome, until labels appear it is only an empty promise. Come on Whole Foods . . . show us the label!!!

Here are three different perspectives on the Whole Foods decision. Many thanks to everyone who supported the shareholder action by either voting their proxy or sending a letter to John Mackey.

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PRESS RELEASE

Whole Foods Shareholders Applaud Company's New Policy to Label Genetically Engineered Foods

Contact: Shelley Alpern, Trillium Asset Management, 617.970.8944
Beth Williamson, GCCM, 617-426-2506 April 05, 2005

The shareholder proponents of a proposal at Whole Foods Markets (NASDAQ: WFMI) congratulated the company yesterday for agreeing to implement the resolution's call for labeling of Whole Foods' private label products with respect of genetically engineered ingredients. The change was announced at Whole Foods' annual stockholder meeting in New York City.

"We are enormously pleased with this development and applaud Whole Foods for continuing to take leadership on the issue of genetically engineered foods," said Shelley Alpern of Social Research & Advocacy at Trillium Asset Management, the proposal's lead proponent. "Whole Foods customers are exactly the demographic that wants to see this information on product labels, and will reward the company accordingly." The shareholder group that filed the proposal included Portfolio 21, Progressive Investments, Green Century Capital Management, the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits of the United Methodist Church, and Jennifer Clark of Austin, Texas.

The shareholders initiated dialogue with Whole Foods on labeling in 2001. The following year, they withdrew a similar proposal.

In announcing the change, CEO John Mackey asked, "If we don't do this, who will?" Noting the possibility that labeling could invite legal actions, Mackey stated that it would be a "lawsuit worth fighting." The uncertainty stems from the Food & Drug Administration's failure to provide final guidelines for labels on genetically engineered foods. The shareholders had argued, however, that careful and accurate wording on Whole Foods' part could insulate the company from legal action.

Indigo Teiwes of Progressive Investments stated, "Improving transparency, increasing consumer education, and realizing the full benefit of the company's market advantage resulting from this decision is a strategic business move.

Given increasing consumer concerns about genetically engineered foods, Whole Foods is taking advantage of a natural opportunity to enhance its market share."

"As an industry leader, whose growth is driven by increasing consumer concern of the purity and safety of food we celebrate Whole Foods commitment to bringing the topic of genetic engineering to the forefront," said Beth Williamson Green Century Capital Management.

Whole Foods did not specify a timeframe for the changes. The company stated that additional information and updates would be available on its web site.

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Dear Food Activists,

At this morning's Whole Foods Annual Meeting of Shareholders in Manhattan, Chairman and CEO John Mackey announced that Whole Foods will begin labeling its in-house (or private label) products with respect to the presence or absence of genetically engineered ingredients. While the shareholder's proposal calling for the adoption of this same policy was rejected, Mackey nevertheless agreed to move forward on it. In response to questions by me and Jim Fealy regarding management's formal position against the proposal, Mackey stated that they did not want to be "coerced" into taking these measures, but would proceed given Whole Foods position as a leader in the natural and organic foods industry. Clearly the anti-gmo movement has had a significant (if grudgingly acknowledged) impact on his decision.

In the meeting (which lasted about an hour and a half) Mackey presented a remarkable picture of growth in which Whole Foods increased its sales by 23 percent in 2004 and is now listed as a Fortune 500 company. He talked about expansion in Canada and to the U.K. as well as the three Whole Foods (two in Manhattan and one in Brooklyn) that are or will soon be opened. He also mentioned the "animal compassion standards" required for Whole Foods meat.

Finally, he indicated how proud he was that Whole Foods is "100 percent union free" (not much animal compassion there).

A the end of the meeting we presented Mackey with our "Cereal Killer" GE food poster. Mackey and David Lannon, Northeast Regional Manager, indicated their interest in talking to us about how we can work together on the larger issue of statewide labeling legislation. We'll be getting back to them. Thanks to Jim Fealy for alerting us to this important meeting as well as Ellen Osuna, Arnold Gore and Chris Gaddess for coming to the Marriott to flyer and talk to shareholders and the public. Also much appreciation goes to the folks from Ecopledge, Green Century Funds and Trillium Asset Management who initiated the shareholder action beginning two years ago. Howard Brandstein SOS Food 638 East 6th Street New York, NY 10009
Tel: 212-677-1863

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Whole Foods to Label GMO-free Products

NEW YORK (April 5, 2005) - Whole Foods Market announced yesterday that it will begin informing customers that its private-label brands are made with non-genetically engineered ingredients. "We've decided that we're going to take more of a leadership role on [this issue]," Chief Executive Officer John Mackey said at a shareholders meeting here. A coalition of six social responsibility funds controlling a combined $21 million in Whole Foods stock had introduced a proxy ballot proposal to require the company to label its brands GMO-free, but the measure failed to garner sufficient votes. Although the company did not present a timeline, Mackey said Whole Foods would move forward on the initiative despite the failed vote, and was already in the early stages of re-evaluating its ingredient auditing processes. "I think this is a terrific, farsighted act on the part of the company, and we're very pleased that they decided to do this," Shelly Alpern, assistant vice president and director of social research for Trillium Asset Management, told SN. In a review of the company's most recent annual report, Mackey noted that Whole Foods had its best year ever in 2004, with 14.9% comparable-store sales growth leading to a 23% increase in sales over 2003, to just under $4 billion.

Matthew Enis Supermarket News

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