Organic Consumers Association

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Retailer Should Start Labeling Earlier

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page and our Millions Against Monsanto page.

Whole Foods Market scored a public relations win with its announcement that it will become the first U.S. grocery chain to require that genetically engineered foods in its stores be labeled by 2018. Other food retailers will likely follow, and that can only be good for U.S. consumers who have been demanding, unsuccessfully so far, labels on foods containing genetically modified organisms.

But Whole Foods can, and should, do much more. In November, voters in Washington will decide on a citizens' ballot initiative, I-522. If passed, I-522 will require labeling of all foods containing GMOs by July 2015. Whole Foods should begin by moving up its deadline to match the I-522 deadline, instead of dragging out compliance for five years. Consumers have waited too long for this basic information -- information that 61 other countries already require by law.

Voluntary labeling of GMOs is a good first step toward providing consumers the information they need to make smart food choices. But why stop there? WFM makes billions of dollars every year selling products under the meaningless label of "natural." Despite the fact that WFM stores post signs that proudly proclaim "Nothing artificial. Ever," the company maximizes its profits by selling so-called "natural" products at premium organic prices -- knowing full well that consumers falsely equate the label "natural" with organic, or almost-organic. If Whole Foods can label GMOs, the company can surely also come clean about its "Nothing artificial. Ever" claim, and at the very least, stop deceiving customers by selling foods that contain GMOs and other unnatural ingredients under the intentionally deceptive "natural" label.

Whole Food's new policy is a smart marketing move. As A. C. Gallo, president of Whole Foods, told the New York Times, some of the company's manufacturers have reported a 15 percent increase in sales of products labeled non-GMO. CEO Walter Robb told reporters that the policy is a direct response to consumer demand. It's no coincidence that the announcement came less than four months after the defeat of California's high-profile GMO labeling battle, Proposition 37, a citizens' initiative that would have required mandatory labeling of GMOs, and would have prohibited the use of the word "natural" on products containing genetically engineered ingredients. Prop 37 was narrowly defeated after the opposition dumped more than $45 million into a month-long deceptive advertising blitz.

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