Whole Foods recently announced the health food giant will make labeling of genetically engineered (GE) ingredients mandatory in its American and Canadian stores by 2018.
(Whole Foods stores in Great Britain already require GE foods to be labeled.) Many expect other retailers to follow suit.
Despite the five-year deadline, which may seem long for some, this announcement is incredibly encouraging and represents a major sign that all the efforts most of you put into the Proposition 37 campaign have paid off. We may have lost that battle but this, and other signs, strongly suggest we are winning the war.
Prop 37 raised an enormous amount of awareness about genetically engineered (GE) foods (a.k.a. genetically engineered organisms or GMO’s). Many Americans didn’t even know they existed prior to the California campaign to require GE foods to be labeled.
The Prop 37 campaign also ushered conversations about food to the front pages of mainstream media. Over the past year, we’ve not only seen an increase in the number of stories on genetically engineered foods, more people are now also talking about other truth-in-labeling issues, and food safety in general.
People are waking up to the fact that we really don’t understand what we’re eating anymore, and they’re taking control of their food again. Now, other states, including Washington State and Missouri, are taking up the baton to label GE foods. In all, 22 states now have some sort of pending labeling legislation.
Seeing the writing on the wall, the National Cooperative Grocers Association (NGCA)1 recently wrote a letter to their members that now also urges food manufacturers to stop funding or opposing GMO labeling. This is an absolutely stupendous victory for our side that finally vindicates the hard work so many of you put into this effort last year.
Whole Foods Market (WFM) is being praised in the media for announcing that it will become the first U.S. grocery chain to require that genetically engineered (GE) foods in its stores be labeled, by 2018. This is a victory for consumers and the GE labeling movement. And it’s a major setback for Monsanto, who for 20 years has worked hand-in-hand with the U.S. Food & Drug Administration to uphold the myth that GE foods and crops are “substantially equivalent” to non-GE foods, that they are perfectly safe, and shouldn’t require labels.
But let’s take a look at what led up to the announcement, and how the plan falls short.
It is consumer pressure that has finally forced WFM’s hand. Last year, consumers hammered WFM when the company dragged its heels on supporting California’s Proposition 37, a Nov. 7 citizens’ ballot initiative that would have required labels on all GE foods. The measure was narrowly defeated by a misleading $45-million ad campaign, paid for by the biotech and food giants. After calls and emails to WFM executives, and a fair amount of bad press, the company finally printed up some posters and leaflets, and offered a lukewarm endorsement. But it refused to contribute money to the Yes on 37 campaign.
Believing that the nation’s leading organic retailer should do more, consumers turned up the heat on WFM with the release of an undercover video showing store employees, either because they were misinformed or intentionally misleading, claiming that WFM stores sold no products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The employees’ statements contradicted previous admissions by WFM executives, including CEO John Mackey, that thousands of their so-called “natural” products actually contain GMOs. (By law, only organic foods are required to be GMO-free).
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