The GMO Fight Takes Step in Right Direction: Whole Foods Makes Pledge

by Laura on March 12, 2013

in Featured, Food, Food Policy, Purchasing


GMOs, GE, FDA and Food Labeling: We hear these words in the news almost on a daily basis. But following the GE controversy is quite a daunting task for the average consumer. And, keeping up with it – and monitoring things in your own home – or grocery basket – is nearly impossible. However, it is a ‘task’ that soon may be easier to comprehend and take action upon. This past week, Whole Foods Market’s announced that the company is committing to full GMO transparency by 2018. According to the company, “All products in its U.S. and Canadian stores must be labeled to indicate if they contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Whole Foods Market is the first national grocery chain to set a deadline for full GMO transparency.”

As explained in a recent TedX Manhattan presentation by Gary Hirschberg, Chairman of Just Label It, a campaign created to advocate for the labeling of GE foods, “The risks and benefits debate [of GMOS] has been going on for some time now, yet a generation has grown up consuming these crops, and we are still unsure about the potential of their long-term effect on our bodies, or the environment.”

As he explains in his TedX Talks presentation, the use and safety of GE crops for human consumption is not assured, and studies are revealing that the insecticide in GE corn is showing up in our bloodstream – as well as the umbilical cord blood of women who are pregnant.

Do we need to grow a third eye before change is made?

I agree that it is a complicated and contentious issue, one that is, for the most part, too much to handle on a daily basis. But, it is made more complicated by the fact that we just don’t know if GE ingredients are in the foods that we eat.

That’s why I see the move by WFM to be a huge step in the right direction. It is a move that will give me the information needed right on the product packaging. No more reading tiny script on labels, or perusing company websites before heading to the store. This move also brings the GMO issue to the laps of everyone – even those who have tuned it out, for reasons ranging from it being too complicated to simply not caring.

But, you should care.

In simple terms GE ingredients (also referred to GMOs i.e Genetically Modified Organisms) are “Plants or animals that have had genetic makeup altered to exhibit traits that are not naturally theirs.” Hisrschberg explained. “This is accomplished through transfer of genetic material from one species to another in way that could never happen in nature or through traditional breeding.”

Yet, the U.S. does not mandate the labeling of GE organisms.

There have been voluntary guidelines that were adopted in 1992, a few years before GE crops were introduced commercially, but nothing mandatory.

The true scope of the prevalence of GE crops in our foods is staggering. Did you know that  in the U.S., 90% of soy is genetically engineered and 85% of corn is genetically engineered. This translates to more than 75% of processed foods we are eating now contain GE materials. But, as Hirschberg pointed out, the average citizen knows nothing about this.

The debate over their safety continues – although increasing number of studies reveal that GE crops are damaging to the environment and our bodies. And, perhaps that is why 55 nations around the world take a differing view than the U.S. and require labeling.

But, whether they are safe or not is immaterial as to whether they are labeled. The FDA is accountable to make us aware of process or ingredients that are not readily recognizable to us. And, I would count GE ingredients in that category. Heck, the FDA requires the labeling of trans fats but not GMOs. To me, there is something wrong with that picture.

The potential ramifications of this altering technology are immense. We have seen the explosion of food allergies skyrocket in the past couple of decades. And there is evidence that the increase of ADHD among our population may be correlated to the increase in GE foods in our lives. Further, herbicides are found in our air and our drinking water (They have been found in the air during the spring and summer time in the Midwest).

But, without the labeling of foods that contain GMOs, doctors – and consumers – will never be able to truly discern why this may be – and, if any of our ailments are linked to a certain food ingredient. Without labeling, there simply is no way for us to find out.

Whole Foods is definitely paving the way for more retailers to join in – and, for big business to take heed. But, until that happens, how can we be assured that the foods you eat do not contain GE ingredients?

* Did you know that the U.S. National Organic Standards prohibit the intentional use of GMO seed in the production of organic crops. It may be unlikely that you can reduce your consumption of GE ingredients to zero, but choosing organic foods is a great start.

* Eating more whole foods and less packaged foods will cut down on your chances of consuming GE ingredients.

To read more about the Just Label It campaign, visit the website – and take a few moments to become educated.


Here are a few tidbits about genetically modified foods:

  • The FlavrSavrTomatoes were the first genetically modified foods to come to market. They are no longer cultivated today.
  • Five countries produce 90% of the world’s genetically engineered crops: Argentina, Brazil, Canada, India and the United States.
  • As a direct result of widespread use of genetically modified herbicide tolerant crops, populations of weeds (“superweeds”) have developed resistance to herbicides and are now present in 26 states. Not surprisingly, farmers have increasingly needed to revert to using older and more toxic herbicides like dicamba and 2,4-D (one of the ingredients in the Vietnam War era defoliant Agent Orange).  These herbicides are known to cause reproductive problems, birth defects, and increased risk of cancer.
  • A genetically engineered salmon is pending FDA approval, and if approved, will be the first genetically engineered animal on supermarket shelves in the U.S.
  • Since GE crops on the market in the U.S. include corn, soybeans, canola, cotton, sugar beets, alfalfa, Hawaiian papaya, zucchini and yellow crookneck squash.
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