Whole Foods Market Friday announced that by 2018, all products in its U.S. and Canadian stores must be labeled to indicate if they contain genetically modified organisms. Whole Foods is the first grocer to set a deadline for full GMO labeling.
Whole Foods Market currently sells 3,300 Non-GMO Project verified products from 250 brands. It will now expand this effort, working with suppliers as they transition to ingredients from non-GMO sources, or clearly label products containing GMOs by the five-year deadline.
The grocery chain says it will make announcements about progress and key milestones along the way.
"We are putting a stake in the ground on GMO labeling to support the consumer's right to know," Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, said in a press statement. "The prevalence of GMOs in the U.S. paired with nonexistent mandatory labeling makes it very difficult for retailers to source non-GMO options and for consumers to choose non-GMO products. Accordingly, we are stepping up our support of certified organic agriculture, where GMOs are not allowed, and we are working together with our supplier partners to grow our non-GMO supply chain to ensure we can continue to provide these choices in the future."
Whole Foods cited the group JustLabelIt.org in a press announcement as a key player in the GMO labeling movement. The group was active last fall in California's Proposition 37 ballot initiative, which would have required GMO labeling in California. The initiative narrowly failed with 48.6% of voters submitting a yes vote, while 51.4% voted against the measure.
Robb said that growing interest is why the chain set a labeling deadline.
"Whole Foods Market … looks forward to supporting other state efforts that may finally lead to one uniform set of national standards," Robb said. "While we are encouraged by the many mandatory labeling initiatives, we are committed to moving forward with our own GMO transparency plan now."
Though a growing movement to label GM food products is gaining steam in several states, not all parties support the idea. Those opposed say across the board labeling – not just in grocery stores – would result in higher costs for consumers. Specifically, the No on 37 movement said GMO labeling requirements conflict with scientific findings that the foods are safe.