Is Whole Foods Really Partnering with Monsanto? Here are the Facts
There is much online chatter about Whole Foods partnering with Monsanto to kill mandatory GMO labeling efforts. The claims are that the grocery supplier — which on its site says it aims to offer only “the finest natural and organic foods available, maintain the strictest quality standards in the industry, and have an unshakeable commitment to sustainable agriculture” — has been lying to customer’s about its support for GMO labeling, and is now partnering with Monsanto to kill GMO labeling efforts nationwide. So are the claims true? Here are the facts.
Whole Foods has never come out and stated whether it stands for or against GMO production, use or consumption; it has only claimed to be in favor of clear labeling so that consumers at least know what they’re buying and feeding to their families.
But if a company’s core values include only selling “the highest quality natural and organic products available” while practicing and advancing “environmental stewardship” then why would it dream of selling risky GMO-laden foods to customers that trust its “strongly upheld” values? Furthermore, why would Whole Foods support brands that use GMOs when the negative impact that GMOs have on the environment is undeniable.
To be fair, Whole Foods never announced plans to ban products containing GMOs. The company only promised that such foods would be easy to identify when shopping in their stores. However, under a newly proposed bill, the seemingly organic marketplace would be able to backtrack on this promise — kind of.
The bill, detailed below in a report from the Alliance for Natural Health, would give manufacturers the option to use a QR code on each product that, when scanned — which must be done by either a cell phone or a special hand-held device in the grocery store — would reveal information about the ingredients of the food.
If passed, not only would Whole Foods and other so-called food system transparency advocates get to fly under this new “transparent-but-not-really” law, no state would be able to ever again be allowed to introduce laws that would mandate GMO labels on foods containing them.
Such a law was already passed in the state of Vermont and is due to go into effect July 1, 2016. But now, if the recently proposed bill is rushed through as intended, Vermont’s GMO labeling law will be considered null and void.
This is a dream come true for Big Agra companies like Monsanto.
And Walter Robb, the CEO of Whole Foods Marketplace, thinks it’s a great bill.
When asked about the bill during a panel discussion with the Aspen Institute Mr. Robb stated,
“The alternative is that Vermont goes into effect and then there’s a number of other states behind that, it makes it difficult for manufacturers to be able to label and label to that different standard…
“And I think the way she’s put the bill together, which is to give manufacturers choices, is I think the marketplace and the customers will take it from here… so obviously, I think she’s done a great piece of work… we are already are out there further with our commitment to full transparency by 2018. We’re not gonna… we’re looking at how these two live with each other, but we’re already past that, but I think in this day and age, to come together, to create some sort of a reasonable standard that manufacturers can… and gives the customer a lot more information is a pretty good thing.”
The problem is that the CEO of Whole Foods, who supposedly urges the need for more transparency in the food system, should want the Vermont law to go into effect, and should want other states to follow suit. Especially as so-called pioneers in the push for transparency in the marketplace.
In 2013 Whole Foods proudly proclaimed that every product in their stores would offer clear, transparent GMO labeling by 2018. This bill allows them to skirt these efforts. Rather than requiring clear labeling, something the company promised its consumers was on the way, all manufacturers will, by law, have the option to simply place of a QR code on the packaging. (Who even really uses those?)
So while it’s a slippery slope to say Whole Foods is in bed with Monsanto, it’s clear the company is in support of something that only creates more roadblocks in the fight for clear GMO labeling. Furthermore, the company stands to benefit by not having to make good on its promise to provide clear, transparent labeling in all of its stores. In essence, to support this bill is to support Monsanto and to reject the notion that people have a right to know what’s in their food by looking at the label.
As for the details of the bill, Alliance for Natural Health reports:
It’s mandatory labeling in name only. It discriminates against the poor. And it is clearly a gift to Big Food.
For weeks now, Sens. Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) have been working on a GMO labeling bill that would pre-empt Vermont’s mandatory labeling law. Late last week they finally reached a compromise, and it’s not good.
The bill requires the labeling of packaged food containing GMOs in one of three ways: an electronic code that consumers can scan; a USDA-developed symbol; or a label. The bill leaves it to manufacturers to decide which of the three methods they prefer.
Now guess which method Big Food will choose? We have no doubts that they will choose the electronic code that can only be read with a scanner. They know that few will want to do this and even fewer will be able to.
A recent national survey showed that only 16% of consumers have ever scanned a QR code for any purpose. QR (which stands for “quick response”) codes are those small square boxes you find on advertising material, though they’re also used in manufacturing and commercial tracking applications; they can display text to the user, compose an email or text message, or—most frequently—take the user to a website. Most people use an app on their smartphone to scan the QR code (there are many QR scanner apps for both iPhone and Android), and each works a bit differently. No matter which product you choose, it may take a few tries to actually scan the code properly. Then you’ll wait for the site to pop up on the screen (which could take a long time depending on your network coverage inside the store), after which you might have to sift through the company’s information to find the GMO information you’re looking for.
Customers will, of course, have another choice: take each item that contains a QR code to the grocery store customer service counter and demand a scan! Long lines and major QR hassles might get grocery stores upset—and they can exercise pressure on Big Food.
The QR code is hardly a label in any meaningful sense of the word. It adds a barrier between the consumer and the information he or she wants, and discriminates against those who do not own smartphones—which is half of people living in rural areas, 75% of those over 65, and half of those making less than $30,000 a year. This legislation discriminates against all these people and especially the poorest Americans. Debbie Stabenow and Pat Roberts should be ashamed of this.
Like the Vermont bill, this proposal exempts meat, poultry, and eggs from labeling requirements, but unlike the Vermont bill, packaged foods that contain meat but not as a main ingredient would need to be labeled. Proponents of the Roberts–Stabenow bill estimate that 25,000 more products would be labeled under their law compared to Vermont’s legislation.
The bill contains a number of other troubling provisions. It totally leaves open the question of defining what percentage of a food must be genetically engineered for it to be considered GMO. This leaves room for a deal behind the scenes with the FDA. Or has such a deal already been reached secretly?
Under this bill, foods that are “mislabeled”—that’s the technical term for not meeting all labeling requirements—cannot be recalled, nor do there seem to be any federal penalties for violations and mislabeling. So for those who choose to simply ignore this law, there seem to be very few consequences—unless the state separately imposes fines for mislabeling. The bill also prohibits treating non-GMO foods as being safer than GMO foods, despite the scientific evidence that non-GMO is indeed safer. Since when does Congress legislate science?
An astounding 92% of consumers now want on-package labeling of genetically modified foods. This bill is a sneaky way to give Big Food what it wants while paying lip service to the kind of labeling the overwhelming majority of consumers want.
To oppose the bill, you can write to your senators and tell them you want mandatory, on-package labeling by simply clicking the link below.