The Corner

Whole Foods to Label Genetically Modified Food

This is the free market in action: Whole Foods plans to label all of its products that contain, or in the case of meat animals were fed, genetically modified food. From the AP story:

Whole Foods says all products in its North American stores that contain genetically modified ingredients will be labeled as such by 2018. The company says it’s the first national grocery chain to set such a deadline for labeling foods that contain genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. A spokeswoman for the supermarket operator said organic foods will not have to carry the labels since they do not contain genetically modified ingredients by definition.

I do hope that companies that genetically modify foods won’t act like Monsanto did when milk companies began to label their products as coming from cows not treated with rBGH (a growth hormone). Monsanto sued to stop such labeling on the ground that since the FDA had approved the use of the hormone in cows as safe, the mere act of labeling implied that milk from treated cows was less beneficial than that from untreated cows. The sue-them into-submission-strategy was only partially successful. Many companies now label their milk as BGH (or BST) free–although some add a modifier that there is no evidence of a safety difference to keep the bullies from Monsanto or the FDA from pounding on their doors. 

It’s really a simple matter of market economics: Many consumers simply want to know whether food products have GMO ingredients:

Whole Foods Market, Inc., is nevertheless seeing growing demand for products that don’t use GMOs. Products that get a “Non-GMO” verification label see sales spike between 15 percent and 30 percent, said A.C. Gallo, president of Whole Foods. In non-perishable groceries, he said the two fastest growing areas are organic and non-GMO products.

Labeling is an appropriate way to cater to these markets. Whole Foods should have every right to help customers avoid foods they don’t want to eat–and it doesn’t matter whether modified foods are just as safe as unmodified. Ditto companies that want to boast on its labels that its products are not genetically altered, as in the BGH approach. It’s known as capitalism.

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