BP, M.D. – Whole Foods to enforce mandatory GMO labeling

by Julia Harvey

Whole Foods Market, an international grocery chain known for its focus on natural and organic foods, has announced it will require labeling of all products containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs) by 2018. It will be the first grocery chain to implement such a requirement. Co-CEO John Mackey claims the move is in response to government inaction.

GMOs are a major presence in today’s food production system. The U.S. plays a significant role in the market, producing massive amounts of genetically modified corn and soy every year. Unlike the U.S., the European Union operates under strict GMO guidelines. There are only two GMO products currently allowed for cultivation by European farmers, Monsanto’s MON810 corn and BASF’s Amflora potato, although dozens of GMO products legally imported and sold in European markets. However, all GMO products must be labeled as such.

Some consumers wonder whether the U.S. should have stricter protections against GMOs. Studies provide mixed results regarding the safety of genetically modified products. A literature review conducted in 2009 found that genetically modified foods “may cause some common toxic effects such as hepatic, pancreatic, renal, or reproductive effects,” but also stated that extensive research was needed to support these initial findings.

Researchers have speculated that the recent increase in celiac disease, or gluten allergy, could be a product of traits specific to genetically modified wheat. The disease is much more common than it was even 50 years ago and is now arguably the most commonly known gastrointestinal disease. If a pathway can be drawn between celiac disease and genetically modified wheat, it could serve a severe blow to the industry.

Spokespeople for GMOs claim there is no concrete evidence of negative health consequences of GMOs and believe GMO labeling instills unnecessary fear in the consumer. The U.S. government continues to pressure the European Union to drop their labeling requirements. It argues that these labels discriminate against genetically modified products and could unfairly restrict American imports.

Whole Foods’ announcement will likely be well received by the American public. According to a poll in June by ABC News, a staggering 93 percent of Americans think the federal government should require labeling for genetically modified or bio-engineered foods.

Although the federal government is unlikely to take action on GMO production or labeling in the near future, states are beginning to take matters into their own hands. A mandatory GMO labeling initiative was introduced on the ballot in California last November, although it was ultimately struck down. However, some see this as the beginning of a movement by American consumers to fight for transparency in the products they buy.


photo by Ciao_yvon: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bellissima_italia/4635406031/