GMO Transparency: One-Year Update from Whole Foods Market

By: Just Label It
Posted on March 12, 2014


By A.C. Gallo, Whole Foods Market

It’s been a year since Whole Foods Market pledged to label products in our stores by 2018 so our customers can tell whether they contain GMOs (genetically modified organisms). In the last 12 months, we’ve made a lot of progress towards our goal of total GMO transparency and I’m excited to share that with you here.

Note: This blog post originally appeared on March 7, 2014, in The Whole Story, the official Whole Foods Market® blog.

There is a lot of work going on behind the scenes to implement a change of this magnitude. To get started, we first had to decide what standards we would put in place to track GMO transparency. Third-party verification is important for any non-GMO claims, so we’ve taken a strong stand: If a product in our stores is labeled non-GMO, it must be either:

  • Certified organic (since the organic standard prohibits the use of GMO ingredients already); or
  • Verified by the Non-GMO Project.

That’s it. We are serious about the claims made on the products you buy.

With the standard in place, our supplier partners were able to leap in with amazing work on product innovations, updates and changes. We’re finding more and more food producers becoming interested in making the transition to going certified organic, non-GMO or both. Since we announced our GMO transparency goal last year, the Non-GMO Project has enrolled more than 10,000 products and verified 4,622 products, representing 1,500 different brands.

Right now, we have more than 6,000 products represented by more than 500 brands that are sourced non-GMO. And of our own 365 Everyday Value® line of products, more than two-thirds are either certified organic, Non-GMO Project Verified, or both, which is a ten percent increase since our announcement a year ago. And we are making progress in our prepared foods too. For example, we only use Non-GMO Project Verified canola oil in foods prepared in our kitchens. Buyers for each department in our stores are examining the products we carry and how they can continue to move towards meeting our 2018 deadline.

And we are going beyond finished packaged products with a focus on meat, dairy, eggs and fish. To be labeled as non-GMO or organic, animals providing these products must be fed Non-GMO or organic feed. We are working within the farming and aquaculture industries to explore new sources of non-GMO and organic feed. In turn, this has encouraged some farmers to transition to growing Non-GMO and organic crops. By 2018 we should have a good selection of non-GMO fed animal products and are still deciding how we will label products from animals that have eaten GMO feed.

A few other areas have complicated issues to resolve around GMO transparency and we’ll keep you informed about our progress as we move forward. For example, many supplements are synthesized from GMO corn and soy. After examining this area and consulting with our suppliers, we realize that it will take the industry time to develop non-GMO sources. While they do that work, we are addressing how to label these products so they will be transparent for our customers.

Beer, wine and cheese will also need special consideration, since the use of genetically modified enzymes is fairly common when making these products. Also, federal alcohol labeling laws may not allow GMO labels. Given that hurdle, we are looking at other labeling methods such as shelf signage as a way to identify those products that may contain GMO enzymes.

We’ll continue to keep you updated on our march toward GMO transparency. Learn more at GMO – Your Right to Know. Thanks for your interest, concern and support. All of us — Whole Foods Market customers, suppliers and team members — are focused on the end goal: total GMO transparency.

  • catherine

    why are you using canola oil in your prepared products? I thought it was toxic..

  • Karen Rogers

    If you read this it says they only use Non GMO certified canola, so that would make it non toxic

  • D.Murray

    Not sure how canola can be considered a Non GMO since its inception was genetic hybrid and oil content was elevated through selective breeding. Gene altering at its best, I guess is expectable.

    • Bonnie Hiniker

      Isn’t much of the canola gmo because it’s roundup ready plants?

  • Guest

    Thank you posts below regarding Canola Oil. I can’t understand the use of that either. It should be one of the GOOD oils – avocado, olive, coconut, ghee or organic grass fed types of butter. Everytime I see something that is made at Wholefoods and looks good, I seem to see Canola Oil in it and put it back. Disheartening. I realize also this is a big task but — 5 years to fully implement?! Really?!

  • Leah

    I have a question… why am I seeing “natural flavor” in my organic products? It does not say “organic natural flavor”. I have seen this as well.

  • SwettEquity

    Thank you to the posts below regarding Canola Oil use. I can’t understand the use of it in store made products either. There are excellent quality GOOD oils that could be easily used – Avocado, Olive, Coconut, or Ghee/Organic grass fed types of butter. Every time I see something that looks good and is made at Wholefoods, I seem to see “Canola Oil” listed as an ingredient and put it right back on the shelf. Disheartening. I realize also this labeling “non-GMO” project is a big task but — 5 years to fully implement?! Really?!

    • jimbo8118

      Thanks for your expansive efforts. Being from the food industry for over 20 years I know how daunting this task is/was/will become.. I read the negatives here and and, as always, amazed at the vitriol. If any of those commenting had any idea of the complexity of rooting out ingredients in manufacturing they certainly would not be so naive in their commnents. I can’t believe that you have made the progress you have.. lemme see naysayers.. how would you approach cheese? How many calls, visits, emails would you take to find out what goats eat.. everyday.. free range .. anything.. how would you validate what they eat daily.. come on.. stand up and try and be positive. This is a tremendously difficult project.. the SKU”s alone.. and ONLY 5 years.. will be a challenge for sure.. Thanks for attempting this .. with the stupidity we have with the Feds. LOL lies everywhere. . just getting through that is a task in itself.

      • SwettEquity

        Since you responded to my “effort” and will respond to yours. I am not sure what “negatives” you are referring to except to maybe express my own opinion (speaking for most people’s angst) over having to go through a snail crawl of getting products relabeled. It is not a slap to WholeFoods at all, but one of disappointment in general – at least it is a start from a reputable outlet, and a good one. No replies to all the discussions of Canola oils and “natural” flavor additives? Curious if you are speaking for WholeFoods or as a general responder as the rest?

  • Paula B.

    It concerns me that when you look at the top 20 owners of Monsanto and the top 20 owners of Whole Foods, there are MANY of the same mutual funds. Is the fox patrolling the hen house?

  • Aneesia

    Got to give them credit. They are going where no major retailer has gone before…and they should be lauded for it.