The natural foods grocery chain said that it will require labels for all GM foods by 2018. The rule is similar to failed California legislation that tried to make the same ruling. The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) objected to the announcement, saying that it supports FDA labeling regulations, which are mandatory for information regarding nutritional or health content but do not specify GM foods.
BIO said that the Whole Foods labels would confuse shoppers and mislead them into thinking that GM foods did not have the same nutritional value as non-GM foods.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association also objected to the labeling requirement on the same grounds, saying that it implies that GM foods are less safe than their counterparts.
On a practical level, complying with the Whole Foods requirements will mean an investment in new product labeling. Food producers will have to decide whether to include the GM information on all of their labels, even for foods destined for other grocery chains, or make Whole Foods-specific labels, which could lead to additional expense. Whole Foods has about 340 stores in the US and Canada and is a considerable grocery powerhouse, so it won’t be easy for producers to decide not to sell to the chain. If companies decide to make GM information standard on all of their labels, the Whole Food requirement becomes the standard, not the FDA’s. This becomes a huge shift and may be an indication of future attempts to regulate the $80 billion US biotechnology industry; if legislation doesn’t do the trick, the private sector, driven by consumer demand, will.
In news articles, supporters of the new labeling called it a “game changer.” Food producers would probably agree.