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Whole Foods Market Plans to Label Genetically Modified Produce by 2018

Update Date: Mar 11, 2013 10:43 AM EDT

The Whole Foods Market food-based company announced that it will move towards labeling all genetically modified food products within the near future. Although genetically modified produce are considered safe in the United States, Whole Foods states that it wants to label all its produce based off of consumer wants. This task would include labeling items throughout all 339 stores located in the U.S. and in Canada. The seven Whole Foods stores in Britain already label genetically modified foods since it is required by law to do so. Whole Foods plans to completely enforce this new policy by 2018.

"We've seen how our customers have responded to the products we do have labeled," said the President of Whole Foods, A. C. Gallo to the New York Times. "Some of our manufacturers say they've seen a 15 percent increase in sales of products they have labeled."

The labels that Whole Foods currently uses inform consumers that the Non GMO Project, which is a nonprofit certification organization, certifies the products and reassures that these items are free of any genetically altered ingredients. Whether or not these same labels will be used in North America remains to be seen. Genetically modified foods have been a source for debate between food retailers for years. Some organizations, like the Cornucopia Institute, which is an organic advocacy group feel that this shift towards labeling will be beneficial for the public because it would inform them of how their foods are being made.

Other groups, like the Grocery Manufacturers Association believe that labeling will only mislead consumers into thinking that there are beneficial differences between products that are modified and those that are not. The association is a trade group that represents large food companies and retailers. The executive director of government affairs for the association stressed that genetically modified items have already been found to be safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), World Health Organization (WHO), and the American Medical Association.

Despite the approval of these associations, many consumers are still weary of genetically modified produce, as the trend toward labeling has increased over the years with over 20 states dealing with pending labeling legislation.

"We've had some pretty big developments in labeling this year. Now, one of the fastest-growing, most successful retailers in the country is throwing down the gantlet," said Gary Hirshberg, chairman for the Just Label It campaign, which is pushing for a federal requirement for labeling.

Although Hirshberg believes that Whole Foods will dramatically change food labeling in the U.S., the effects will not be known until the company has successfully shifted over to labeling, a task that will take five years. 

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