GMOs are organisms that have been genetically (DNA or RNA) altered in ways that mating or cell division could not accomplish. By manipulating its genetic material, the characteristics of an organism are intentionally changed. According to the National Institute of Health website, Medline Plus, “Genetically engineered foods have had foreign genes (genes from other plants or animals) inserted into their genetic codes.” According to the Non-GMO Project, “93 percent of soy, 88 percent of field corn, 94 percent of cotton and more than 90 percent of canola seed and sugar beets planted in the United States (2012 data) are genetically engineered.”
Whole Foods Market is the first grocery chain in the United States to set a deadline for GMO labeling. Beginning in 2018, grocery giant Whole Foods Market will require all foods that contain GMOs sold in its U.S. and Canadian stores to be labeled as containing GMOs. Whole Foods currently sells 3,300 Non-GMO products from 250 brands, which, according to the company, is more than any other retailer in North America. Walter Robb, Whole Foods co-CEO, said the company is responding to its customers “who have consistently asked us for GMO labeling… We are doing so by focusing on where we have control: in our own stores.
Critics of GMOs cite that genetically engineered crops can damage both human health and the environment. A.C. Gallo, president of Whole Foods, referenced a growing need for products that don’t contain GMOS. He said that products that earn the “Non-GMO” verification label often see sales increases between 15 percent and 30 percent. Concerning non-perishable groceries, the two areas with the fasted growing need are organic and non-GMO products. He does admit non-GMOs products do carry a higher price tag. This is because of the limited supplies of non-GMO ingredients.
In an essay, Organic Consumers Association officials Ronnie Cummins and Katherine Paul describe Whole Foods’ decision on labeling as a “a major setback for Monsanto, who for 20 years has worked hand-in-hand with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to uphold the myth that GE (genetically engineered) foods and crops are substantially equivalent to non-GE foods, that they are perfectly safe, and shouldn’t require labels.” They note a potential effect on the rest of the market. “Some retailers will be looking at how Whole Foods handles this and its impact on the company and its customers,” Paul said.
GMO supporters are quick to note that “food produced through biotechnology poses no more risk than food produced in conventional or organic ways”. Because in 1992, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration established a policy declaring that there is no substantial or material difference between genetically engineered foods and foods that haven’t been genetically engineered, there is no reason to place a warning label on foods containing ingredients that cannot hurt them. “They’ve all concluded that genetically engineered foods are the same as conventionally grown and organic foods,” Tardy says “And those that want to avoid GMOs can always buy ‘organic’ because organic production precludes the use of genetically modified seed.” Karen Batra, spokesperson for the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), which represents Monsanto, DuPont and other companies that make and sell genetically modified seeds, told Food Safety News that BIO definitely supports the voluntary labeling of products as well as market-driven approaches to labeling. “But they (the labels) can’t carry messages about food safety and health if they would be misleading,” she said, pointing to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s policy on this. “We’d object to any inferences that non-GMO foods are safer or healthier. GMO foods, non-GMO foods and organic foods are compositionally the same.”
“All this bill would do would require there to be a label at the point of sale to the consumer, so that the consumer can make an educated choice,” says Logan Perkins, the coordinator of MOFGA’s “Right to Know GMO” campaign. She says polls have shown that consumers want to know more about what’s in the food they buy. “I’m not asking you to say, ‘Don’t grow genetically engineered seed,'” Republican state Rep. Lance Harvell of Farmington says. “I’m not telling you they’re bad, I’m not telling you they’re good. I’m telling you that the people have a right to know they’re there. That’s it.”