This past Friday, Whole Foods became the first food retailer to require labeling of all genetically modified foods, commonly known as GMO’s. Many analysts believe that this stance could radically alter the industry as a whole.
A. C. Gallo, president of Whole Foods, said the new labeling requirement, to be in place within five years, came in response to consumer demand. “We’ve seen how our customers have responded to the products we do have labeled,” Mr. Gallo said. “Some of our manufacturers say they’ve seen a 15 percent increase in sales of products they have labeled.”
Consumers have been led to believe that GMO’s are completely safe, so safe that Grocery Manufacturers Association, the trade group that represents major food companies and retailers, issued a statement opposing the move. “These labels could mislead consumers into believing that these food products are somehow different or present a special risk or a potential risk,” Louis Finkel, the organization’s executive director of government affairs, said in the statement. Mr. Finkel noted that the Food and Drug Administration, as well as regulatory and scientific bodies including the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association, had deemed genetically modified products safe.
I find this quite interesting as there have been no long term studies provided, other than the Seralini Study which was denounced by the European Union for providing insufficient data to prove their results. Mr. Finkel noted that the Food and Drug Administration, as well as regulatory and scientific bodies including the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association, had deemed genetically modified products safe. Based on what data and what are their definition of safe? The UK is one of the few countries that conduct’s a yearly evaluation of food allergies. In March 1999, researchers at the York Laboratory were alarmed to discover that reactions to soy had skyrocketed by 50% over the previous year. Genetically modified soy had recently entered the UK from US imports and the soy used in the study was largely genetically modified. John Graham, spokesman for the York laboratory, said, "We believe this raises serious new questions about the safety of genetically modified foods.
Scientists have long known that genetically modified crops might cause allergies. But there are no tests to prove in advance that a genetically modified crop is safe. That's because people aren't usually allergic to a food until they have eaten it several times. "The only definitive test for allergies," according to former FDA microbiologist Louis Pribyl, "is human consumption by affected peoples, which can have ethical considerations." And it is the ethical considerations of feeding unlabeled, high-risk genetically modified crops to unknowing consumers that has many people up in arms.
Gary Hirshberg, chairman of Just Label It, a campaign for a federal requirement to label foods containing genetically modified ingredients, called the Whole Foods decision a “game changer.” “We’ve had some pretty big developments in labeling this year,” Mr. Hirshberg 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 gantlet.” He compared the potential impact of the Whole Foods announcement to Wal-Mart’s decision several years ago to stop selling milk from cows treated with growth hormone. Today, only a small number of milk cows are injected with the hormone.
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. Today, Whole Foods’ shelves carry some 3,300 private-label and branded products that are certified organic, the largest selection of any grocery chain in the country.