Whole Foods executive clarifies stand on GMO labels

Whole Foods executive responds to editorial on labeling food with genetically modified ingredients.

Whole Foods Market’s goal in stating our intent to label products for GMO content by 2018 is to clear up confusion about what is — or isn’t — in the food we buy. Unfortunately, the recent Capital Press editorial “GMO label initiative is backwards,” only continues the confusion.

Whole Foods Market is currently working with suppliers to label products as non-GMO because there are no laws that products containing GMOs must be labeled. Our customers have asked for this level of transparency, and in the absence of federal standards, we have taken the initiative with our suppliers on their behalf.

Non-GMO labeling by a third party confers credibility on claims made by the producer, but in order to be fully transparent, information about GMOs should be easy to find on every product. There must also be labels on products that do contain genetically engineered ingredients.

The Capital Press editorial says, “By 2018, everything in Whole Foods stores will be labeled non-GMO, according to the company’s website.”

Actually, what our website says is “By 2018, we will require our supplier partners to label products containing GMO ingredients.” Our goal is not to eliminate GMOs from our stores, but to have products that may contain GMOs labeled as such. Ultimately, GMO produce, animals that are fed GMO feed, and products that contain GMO ingredients will all be labeled in our stores.

Lastly, we do not believe the argument that “GMO labels would make food cost more in Oregon and reduce the selection” to be true. Manufacturers update product labels on an average of once a year, and adding new language or labels should not increase cost. Many of these manufacturers already sell products in the 64 countries that require them to be labeled. Whole Foods Market does not currently intend to stop selling foods with GMOs, and the inference that a labeling initiative will “reduce the selection” is probably not true for the State of Oregon, either.

This is simple – consumers want to make food choices based on clear information on how their food was produced. Let’s tell them in the easiest way possible: on the labels of their food.

Joe Rogoff is the regional president for Whole Foods Market in the Pacific Northwest.