As moves to secure GMO labeling continue to gain momentum at a state level, Whole Foods Market has “put a stake in the ground” and made a commitment to label all products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in its US and Canadian stores by 2018.
Co-CEO Walter said customers “consistently asked us for GMO labeling and we are doing so by focusing on where we have control: In our own stores”.
He added: “The prevalence of GMOs in the U.S. paired with nonexistent mandatory labeling makes it very difficult for retailers to source non-GMO options and for consumers to choose non-GMO products.
“Accordingly, we are stepping up our support of certified organic agriculture, where GMOs are not allowed, and we are working together with our supplier partners to grow our non-GMO supply chain to ensure we can continue to provide these choices in the future.”
The retailer, which began putting its 365 Everyday Value line through Non-GMO Project verification in 2009, now sells 3,300 Non-GMO Project verified products from 250 brands, and will now expand this effort, said Robb.
EWG: WFM move will add new urgency to efforts to require GE labeling in more than 20 states
The move was immediately commended by the national Just Label It campaign, which is urging the FDA to require labeling of GE foods, and the Environmental Working Group, which said it would “add new urgency to efforts to require GE labeling in more than 20 states”.
Although the highest profile state-level GMO labeling initiative - California’s Prop 37 - was narrowly defeated in November, it has been followed by a series of other bills, or proposals in Vermont, Washington State, New Mexico, Hawaii and several other states.
While some of these initiatives have high-profile industry supporters such as Ben & Jerry’s co-founders Jerry Greenfield and Ben Cohen, they have, however, been strongly criticized by other food and beverage manufacturers, which argue that labeling foods containing GE ingredients erroneously implies that there is something wrong with them - and will increase costs without benefiting consumers.
Currently, federal law does not require the labeling of genetically engineered foods as the FDA has consistently argued that they do not differ from other foods "in any meaningful or material way" or present any different or greater safety concerns than foods developed by traditional plant breeding methods.
However, supporters of GMO labeling say the issue is not about safety, per se, but consumer choice.
Is a federal GMO labeling law inevitable?
So what happens next, and is a federal GMO labeling law inevitable given the flurry of state-level initiatives now underway?
While the Grocery Manufacturers Association has consistently opposed GMO labeling initiatives in individual states, several of its members are reported to have attended a meeting in Washington earlier this year to discuss federal labeling options amid concerns that complying with a patchwork of slightly different GMO labeling rules across multiple states could prove to be a nightmare for manufacturers.
Meanwhile, some manufacturers that FoodNavigator-USA spoke to at the Research Chefs Association (RCA) annual conference & culinology expo this week said labeling may not prove as damaging to big brands as some people fear, and that campaigning about the right ‘not to label’ the technology was in itself making it look sinister, and making them look as if they have something to hide.
PepsiCo R&D chief: Try feeding 9.5bn people without GM crops….
As for whether we can get by without genetic engineering in agriculture, PepsiCo chief science officer Dr Mehmood Khan told delegates at the RCA conference today: “This is a very polarizing question politically”.
But he added: “Do we even have a choice?”
Meanwhile, poor people could not afford to have "philosophical discussions" about the merits of organic versus GM agriculture, he said, while technologies that enabled yields to increase without using more pesticides, or crops to grow with less water, would be essential if we are to feed more than 9bn people by 2050.
He added: “70% of the world’s population will be living in urban environments by 2050.” And they would not sustain themselves by growing organic tomatoes in their backyards or window boxes, he said.
“They won’t have back yards… Unless you can solve this with [a better alternative to GMOs] let’s not get high and mighty about this.”