Genetically modified food have circulated the global food industry since the 1990s but only until now that every food will be labeled- at least to one of the major food retailers in United States. On Friday, March 8, 2013, Whole Foods Market, a grocery store, became the first retailer in America to require of labeling every genetically modified food and ingredients sold in its many branches.
This bold move by Whole Foods Market, according to some experts, can radically alter the food industry. The labeling will be done within a few years, and was a response of the grocery chain to the demands made by its customers, according to A. C. Gallo (president of Whole Foods Market). Mr. Gallo said that “we have seen how our customers have responded to the products we do have labeled. Some of our manufacturers say they have seen a 15 percent increase in sales of products they have labeled.”
The move made by the American food retailer excited the food industry and has been receiving good feedback from organic advocacies such as the co-director of the Cornucopia Institute, Mark Kastel. Just Label It’s chairman Gary Hirshberg called the Whole Food’s move as a major game changer. “We’ve had some pretty big developments in labeling this year,” he said, adding that 22 states now have some sort of pending labeling legislation. “Now, one of the fastest-growing, most successful retailers in the country is throwing down the gauntlet.” He compared the potential impact of the Whole Foods’ announcement to Wal-Mart’s decision years ago to cease selling milk from cows treated with growth hormone. In present time, fewer milk cows are injected with the hormone. Other groups though has shown disdain towards the announcement such as the Grocery Manufacturers Association. “These labels could mislead consumers into believing that these food products are somehow different or present a special risk or a potential risk,” according to GMA’s Louis Finkel. Finkel is GMA’s executive director of government affairs. He also stated that GM food products are deemed safe for consumerism by the Food and Drug Administration, World Health Organization and American Medical Association, thus making labels not needed anymore.
The labeling requirements announced by Whole Foods will include its 339 stores in the United States and Canada. Since labeling is already required in the European Union, products in its seven stores in Britain are already marked if they contain genetically modified ingredients. The labels currently used show that a product has been verified as free of genetically engineered ingredients by the Non GMO Project, a nonprofit certification organization. The labels Whole Foods will use in 2018, which have yet to be created, will identify foods that contain such ingredients.
The debate on genetically modified food has been around from the very start and the Whole Foods Market move has heated up the debate again. Coca-cola and PepsiCo, both the largest soda manufacturers in the world, has taken great efforts to the extent of spending millions of dollars to fight the effort, consumers around the United States are performing guerrilla stunts in grocery stores, sticking warning signs on products which are suspected of consisting of GMO ingredients which companies have chosen not to labeling it. Advocates of food labeling have been protesting and stress the fact that every consumer has the right to know what is inside the food they put inside their mouths and where it came from. Proponents have cited examples of studies such as rats being harmed when eating GMO food.
Karen Batra, a spokeswoman for BIO, a trade group representing the biotech industry, said it was too early to determine what impact, if any, the Whole Foods decision would have. “It is too early to determine what impact Whole Foods decision would make. It looks like they want to expand their inventory of certified organic and non-G.M.O. lines. The industry has always supported the voluntary labeling of food for marketing reasons,” Karen Batra said. Batra is the spokesperson for BIO, a trade group representing the biotechnology industry. Scientific evidence of health and safety issues, without it showing in GM food, makes labeling unnecessary according to Batra. Despite the opposition of many, major companies in America have shown a growing enthusiasm of following suit with Whole Foods Market and are contemplating labeling. Twenty of these major food retailers, Wal-Mart included, came together in a meeting in Washington to discuss gene-modified labeling of their products.
The movement has cost food companies, however. State legislatures and regulatory agencies are contemplating labeling GM food themselves. Consumers have been criticizing companies that oppose the initiative by using social media to voice out their views.
As of present time, Whole Foods’ shelves 3,300 private-label and branded products that are certified, the largest selection of any grocery chain in the country. President of Whole Foods, Mr. Gallo said that they did not consult with their food supplier about the company’s decision and informed the suppliers shorty, before making a public announcement on Friday, March 8. Mr. Gallo said Whole Foods Market is looking forward to working with their multiple suppliers on GM food labeling on its 339 branches in America and including Canada.