Many foods are required by law to have certain labeling on food products in the U.S. and Canada, however labels indicating a food contains GMO ingredients are not one of the mandates
is currently required in the European Union and other countries, but not in the U.S. or Canada. Whole Foods aims to start its own standard requirement in its 300+ stores in the two nations.
While many consumers want to know what is in the foods they are eating, a large-scale battle has been ongoing, with big businesses launching tens of millions of dollars to campaign with the intent of defeating proponents of labeling. Last year, the labeling requirement was narrowly voted down
in a California vote that would have required GMO labeling in the state. Several other states currently have pending legislation.
Whole Foods is taking its own stance and some are suggesting this could transform the food industry.
Whole Foods posted a blog entry
on March 8 making the announcement. The company said, "Whole Foods Market commits to full GMO transparency by giving supplier partners five years to source non-GMO ingredients or to clearly label products with ingredients containing GMOs."
Pointing out the consumer's right to know, Whole Foods said they "heard our customers loud and clear asking us for GMO labeling and we are responding where we have control: in our own stores."
The company indicated it wanted to give suppliers time to adjust which is why there is a five-year plan for the shift; it also said many of its suppliers are "well on their way" to non-GMO ingredients and anticipate many suppliers will be ready sooner.
According to the New York Times
, Whole Foods said they are taking this position in response to consumer demand.
“We’ve seen how our customers have responded to the products we do have labeled,” A. C. Gallo, president of Whole Foods, said, reported The New York Times
. “Some of our manufacturers say they’ve seen a 15 percent increase in sales of products they have labeled.”
Opponents of GMO labeling say that there is no evidence GMOs are harmful, thus labeling is not necessary. They've also argued that adding labels stating food products contain GMO will drive up the cost of food
. Proponents of labeling simply want to know what it is they are eating, and to have the right to make their own educated decision when buying food.
Whatever side of the coin, this move is bound to cause additional conflict, and perhaps draw more awareness to the issue if consumers respond positively in the open market to labeling by a large grocery chain.
"This is an issue whose time has come," Whole Foods Co-Chief Executive Walter Robb said, reported the Los Angeles Times
. "With cases like horse meat discovered in the U.K., plastic in milk in China, the recalls of almond and peanut butter in the U.S., customers have a fundamental right to know what's in their food."