whole foods

Whole Foods Delays Mandatory GMO Labeling

Brian German Agri-Business

Whole Foods recently announced that the company would not be going forward with mandatory GMO labeling requirements.  The company sent a letter to suppliers informing them that the planned policy that was scheduled to be put into effect on September 1 would be delayed until further notice.

Mandatory GMO LabelingThe labeling mandate was originally announced in 2013 and would have required foods that contain genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, as part of their ingredients be clearly labeled as such on the packaging.  The company, acquired by Amazon last summer, noted confusion and concern related to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard.  The letter sent to suppliers noted that “as the USDA finalizes the federal regulation in the coming months and the food industry assesses the impact, we do not want our Policy to pose further challenges for you and your business.”

The Whole Foods labeling requirement would have been considerably stricter than the proposed USDA rules.  Most notably, USDA uses the term “bioengineered food” and applies a focused definition of what it considers genetic modification.  For foods that are considered bioengineered, the USDA rules will require a Quick Response code to allow customers to obtain additional information through their phone.

Rules that would have been put in place for Whole Foods would have included a much broader definition of what the company classifies as genetically modified food.  All foods that involved any type of gene-editing tools in any fashion would have been required to be labeled as a GMO.  That same standard would also have been enforced for animal products raised on feed that Whole Foods would consider genetically modified.

A timeline for the mandatory GMO labeling has not yet been established, but the company maintains that the requirement will move forward after the USDA issues a final decision regarding GMO labels.  The USDA is still accepting public comment before the standards are officially established.  A clear definition of bioengineered foods is expected to be announced in the next few months.