Late last week, Whole Foods Market became the first national grocery chain to mandate labeling of genetically engineered foods.
Labeling genetically engineered foods – sometimes called GMO or genetically modified foods – have been ballot issues in a couple western U.S. states, including California and Washington. The measure died last November in California. It will appear on the ballot in Washington this November.
Supporters of the labeling say it’s needed so consumers can know what they’re buying. Supermarket chains opposed the measures, citing legal liability concerns. GMO producers like Monsanto also opposed the measure, disputing claims that the products were unsafe.
Whole Foods will not start labeling GMO in its American and Canadian stores until 2018. The grocer’s Jackson store in Highland Village is currently under construction and is scheduled to open this fall.
Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb said the five year window would make the transition easier on the grocer’s suppliers.
“This is a complicated issue, and we wanted to give our supplier partners enough time to make this change,” he said in a March 8 letter posted on the company’s website. “Fortunately, many of our suppliers are already well on their way to moving to Non-GMO ingredients and a good number are already there. While five years is the deadline, we know there will be progress much sooner and we plan to announce key milestones along the way.”
GMO opponents reacted to Whole Foods’ decision generally unfavorably.
Food Democracy Now, which supported California’s measure and is doing the same in Washington, said Whole Foods should start the labeling process immediately.
“While this is a step in the right direction, Whole Foods’ customers shouldn’t have to wait another half decade to get common sense labeling of genetically engineered ingredients in their products that they sell unlabeled every day,” said Dave Murphy, the organization’s founder. Murphy, who co-chaired the push to pass the ballot measure in California, said its chances of passage would have increased had Whole Foods supported the measure sooner than it did.
Whole Foods’ Jackson location will be the first in Mississippi. Construction started on the 30,000 square-foot store in November.