Whole Foods To Label Genetically Modified Food

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 9 2013 8:51 AM

Will Whole Foods Start a Trend by Requiring Labels on Genetically Modified Food?

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A Whole Foods Market in San Francisco, California

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The upscale grocery chain Whole Foods Market is getting ahead of the game, becoming the first major retailer in the United States to require that all genetically modified foods in their U.S. and Canadian stores be labeled by 2018. It’s a move that could “radically alter the food industry,” notes the New York Times. In explaining the move in the Whole Foods blog, the retailer says it “stood up for the consumer’s right to know,” pointing out that “our customers care passionately” about the issue. Although there are no mandatory labeling laws in Canada and the United States, more than 60 countries have some form of regulation and several U.S. states are considering the issue.

"This is an issue whose time has come," Whole Foods Co-Chief Executive Walter Robb said. "With cases like horse meat discovered in the U.K., plastic in milk in China, the recalls of almond and peanut butter in the U.S., customers have a fundamental right to know what's in their food."

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In November, California voters did not back a ballot measure that would have required GMO labeling after companies dumped millions of dollars to attack the campaign, points out the Los Angeles Times. Yet the latest move by Whole Foods shows how major retailers are starting to use their influence to shift opinions on an issue even if the government doesn’t get involved, such as when Burger King announced it would only use eggs from cage-free hens. Although others are expected to follow the Whole Foods lead, it likely won’t be a quick process simply because the issue of genetically modified foods isn’t easy to understand for the public at large.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.