Is Whole Foods’ GMO Decision De Facto Legislation?

Whole Foods recently announced that they will begin requiring their suppliers to label products containing Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).  Here’s the key piece from that announcement:

We are the first national grocery chain to set a deadline for full GMO transparency. By 2018, we will require our supplier partners to label products containing GMO ingredients, and we will work in collaboration with them as they transition to sourcing non-GMO ingredients or to clearly labeling products with ingredients containing GMOs.

This may seem a natural fit for Whole Foods and that it will drive the retail grocery industry down the GMO labeling path.  I’m not so certain.  Rather than leading the way for industry-wide acceptance of labeling, this may in fact further bifurcate the retail grocery market.   Some vendors may decide to opt out and end their relationships with Whole Foods.  Given that possibility, this feels like a bit of a gamble as Whole Foods has been working to gain market share through value pricing.  If this doesn’t work as it appears they are hoping, they may be forcing themselves into a corner where broad appeal is more difficult.  (I’m not trying to have a discussion of stock prices, just thinking through the possible outcomes and unintended consequences of strategy.)

Looking at the other industry players (Full disclosure, I am an employee of SuperValu.), I see one of two possible paths which will likely be decided by the first moving large player.  Either a heavyweight like Wal-Mart will announce they’re going to go down the same path as Whole Foods (in effect enacting de facto legislation at that point), or a large supplier of Whole Foods will announce they’re pulling up stakes.  In that case, they may lead the aforementioned market bifurcation wherein suppliers line up on either side of the labeling fence.  The latter move would be much less certain than the former, but it certainly could drive the suggested outcome.

Whole Foods’ move appears to make industry-wide acceptance more likely, but I don’t see it as a foregone conclusion.  Regardless of the outcome, I’m hoping it helps us replace the cacophony of fear-mongering and obfuscation with a more reasoned, science-based debate on the potential benefits and risks of GMO foods.  If so, I think we’ll all owe a debt of thanks to Whole Foods.  We’ll see.

Genetically Modified Foods are completely harmless!

Probably not a GM strawberry...

Image by: Bushman.K

Okay, so I can’t claim to know if Genetically Modified (GM/GMO) foods are completely harmless as we just don’t know yet.  Some variants may be absolutely safe, positive contributions to our food systems, but I fear they’re getting broad brush approval due to financial concerns.  Given time, we’ll learn whether or not they are loaded with hidden dangers.  Connecticut is considering legislation which would require all GM foods be labeled as such.  This seems a fair approach as it would then give consumers the opportunity to make informed choices.  It would also help raise our collective level of awareness, as I believe few know how pervasive these products are.  It’s probably no surprise that I advocate for the precautionary principle* as this wouldn’t be the first time technological progress preceded scientific knowledge of a technology’s drawbacks. Continue reading

David vs. Monsanto (Documentary)

A bit of a lazy post today.  I thought I’d share the intro of one of my favorite documentaries in the hopes that you might check out the film.  Canadian farmer, Percy Schmeiser has spent the past several years battling Big Ag over GMO licensing and seed contamination issues.  This is not the run of the mill doc which lulls you to sleep.  The Schmeiser’s story is a gripping tale which warns against a potential monopoly over our food system, while touching on the potential dangers of GMO foods.  I’ve posted links for the rest of the film below.

Thanks for stopping by!

Check out the rest of the film and please share any thoughts you have in the comments section below.

Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5