Natural grocery chain Whole Foods Market recently announced it will soon label its products that contain genetically modified organisms (GMOs), bringing up questions as to how this will change consumer expectations, alter other grocery chains' treatment of the products and revise the corporation's current processes.
Labeling a product as containing GMO could throw some consumers off, which could lead Whole Foods to change its procurement processes to source more non-GMO food and keep current customers satisfied with their experiences. It could also require the company to more thoroughly investigate its suppliers and their purchasing strategies to ensure their policies and sourcing fit in with Whole Foods' new initiative.
Current legislation doesn't mandate labeling
Genetically modified ingredients and products have a firm hold on global food supply chains. These products are often more profitable than traditional crops, as they have been genetically engineered to resist herbicide, pests and weather conditions. While these crops often include corn, soybeans and wheat, The New York Times reported there are currently plans to develop apples that will stay fresh for longer periods and salmon that will grow more quickly.
Major bodies, including the Food and Drug Administration, the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association, have claimed GMOs are safe for human consumption; however, many experts disagree and would prefer foods that contain ingredients that have been modified to alert purchasers so customers can decide whether they want to ingest them. The European Union currently requires all GMO products to carry a label, while groups and consumers in the United States are also pushing for similar requirements. Some states are also drafting legislation that, if passed, could also force manufacturers to label products that contain GMOs.
"We are putting a stake in the ground on GMO labeling to support the consumer's right to know," said Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods. "The prevalence of GMOs here 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."
Possible change in sourcing and purchasing strategies
Whole Foods aims to have its GMO labeling in place by 2018, giving the company time to work with its suppliers and determine how best to implement the new policy and give producers some time to comply with the changes. Whether the corporation's partners will want to abide with the new labeling policies remains to be seen; Whole Foods may need to alter its supply chain and sourcing programs to ensure it works with companies willing to label their products or change the ingredients to ensure they meet the new standards.
"We have always believed that quality and transparency are inseparable and that providing detailed information about the products we offer - such as 5-Step Animal Welfare ratings in meat, Eco Scale rated cleaning products in grocery, stringent wild and farm-raised standards in seafood, and now labeling GMOs throughout the store - is part of satisfying and delighting the millions of people who place their trust in Whole Foods Market each day," said A.C. Gallo, president of Whole Foods. "This bold task will encourage manufacturers to ask deeper questions about ingredients, and it will help us provide greater transparency about the products we sell so our consumers can be empowered to make informed decisions about the foods that are best for them."