Whole Foods Market, the eighth largest food and drug store in the US, has announced that it will start to label all food made from genetic engineering (GE) within 5 years.
As the US (and Canada) is one of the rare so-called ‘developed’ countries still denying consumers the right to know about GE food in the supermarkets, this is remarkable news, especially from a country that the GE industrial lobby has too long considered it as its own turf. Whole Foods’ decision is, therefore, welcome news even if some groups, like the Organic Consumers Association, have demanded that the change be implemented more quickly, by 2015.
The fact that Whole Foods occupies a health and quality food niche market – accounting for just 2% of the total US food retail market – explains why it might have made such an innovative move. Still, its total sales in 2012 of US$11.6 billion is quite significant when compared with Monsanto’s turnover of US$13.5 billion.
Whole Foods’ looming GE food labelling will consequently send a strong message to its suppliers and could set in motion a trend among other retailers.
It is worth remembering that in 2008, Walmart decided to stop selling milk from cows treated with a growth hormone. This decision had a major effect on many other retailers that eventually followed suit. Obviously, it is too early to know if Whole Foods’ recent announcement will have similar consequences.
However, the real heroes behind Whole Foods’ announcement on GE labelling are US citizens and consumers that are increasingly demanding better and safer food and greater transparency. There is indeed a growing and diverse food movement in the US that is starting to make its voice heard.
Last November, a citizen initiative referendum in California (‘Proposition 37’) aimed at mandatory GE labelling narrowly lost after the food industry lobby – including Monsanto – spent US$45 million on a campaign to defeat the proposal.
This outraged many US citizens, who have become even more vocal in raising their concerns. A recent poll confirmed that 82% of Americans thinks that GE food should be labelled and the Just Label It campaign already collected more than 1.2 million signatures.
Therefore, Whole Foods’ recent decision fits totally into the context of a growing food movement in the US, where increasingly active consumers and citizens are demanding transparency and healthier food.
Add into the mix an increasing number of farmers worried now about negative collateral effects of GE crops, such as the growth of herbicide-tolerant superweeds (see the video Growing Doubt) and all these elements might be the early signal of the perfect storm that Monsanto and the industrial food lobby are so scared of.
So ‘YES we can’ win battles over food issues … even in the US!
Greenpeace campaigns on this issue and demands that GE crops should not be released into the environment as there is sufficient scientific ground to justify a precautionary approach to protect the environment and human health.
We believe in a future that rests on ecological farming as the only solution that ensures healthy farming and healthy food, by protecting soil, water and climate, promotes biodiversity, and does not contaminate the environment with toxic chemicals or genetic engineering.
GE Crops in Agriculture – Greenpeace animation
Eric Darier is a senior campaigner for sustainable agriculture at Greenpeace International