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The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

It’s Non-GMO Month: Our Progress on GMO Transparency

tractor on a non-gmo farm

With the celebration of October as Non-GMO Month, it’s the perfect time to provide an update on Whole Foods Market’s GMO Transparency Initiative, first announced in 2013.

We are well on our way to providing GMO transparency for the food we sell by our self-imposed deadline of September 1, 2018. Here are just a few highlights of what shoppers can find in our stores already:

  • We offer more than 11,500 Non-GMO Project™ Verified products – a threefold increase in three years.
  • We offer more than 25,000 certified organic choices companywide. (Organic Standards don’t allow GMOs.)
  • Our in-store kitchens and bakeries use eggs that are from hens raised on non-GMO feed and canola oil that is non-GMO verified.
  • We offer eggs from hens fed non-GMO feed as well as chicken and turkey fed non-GMO feed in our meat department.
  • We’ve pioneered dairy-based products like yogurt and cheese from animals fed non-GMO feed.
  • We’ve launched a large-scale line of fresh, non-GMO-fed pork in meat departments across our West Coast stores, with plans to expand.

And our work continues. Part of our current focus is working closely with suppliers and manufacturers to help them meet our GMO Labeling Policy.

As you may be aware, the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Law was passed by both the Senate and House and signed into law on July 29, 2016. It directs the USDA to develop a national mandatory system within 2 years for disclosing the presence of GMO ingredients, effective by July 2018. But you probably won’t see information on all products by that date. Similar to the implementation process for other new government regulations, there will likely be a grace period for compliance. (For example, the grace period for organic labeling was 18 months.)

It’s extremely important that our suppliers and customers are clear about what we expect in terms of our GMO disclosure, deadline, requirement for third party verification of non-GMO claims, and where our policy differs from the national law.

For example, the national law allows the disclosure of GMO ingredients through the use of QR (Quick Response) codes on the label. This is absolutely unacceptable for our policy. We do not consider a QR code to be an adequate declaration of GMO ingredients. If a product features a QR code, we still require an on-package GMO claim on the label in order to be sold in our stores.

We’ve been the first to do a lot of the groundwork on GMO transparency. The past three years have been a learning process as we evaluated our entire food supply chain – from manufacturing facilities and ingredient suppliers to what farmers feed their animals. GMOs are so pervasive in North American food crops, determining what does and does not contain GMOs is a daunting task.

We’ve also taken into account the regulations proposed in state laws as well as what was ultimately adopted in the new national law. Based on all of this information, we recently communicated to our suppliers some policy modifications to what we announced in our GMO Transparency Initiative in 2013. Here’s an overview of our requirements.

By September 1, 2018, Whole Foods Market will require suppliers of food to label products that contain genetically modified (GMO) risk ingredients.

Our policy identifies a GMO risk ingredient as one that is derived from a genetically engineered agricultural crop. As of September, 2016, the GMO risk crops are: corn, soy, sugar beets, canola/rape, cotton, alfalfa, zucchini/summer squash and papaya. The risk goes beyond these crops as whole products — there are hundreds of ingredients and additives derived from these crops, which also must be labeled.

Similar to the national law, we will not require suppliers to label ingredients derived from animals fed GMO feed for the purpose of our transparency deadline in 2018. That means a food product that contains a meat or dairy ingredient, but does not contain any other risk ingredient, won’t be subject to a labeling requirement. This is a modification from our original announcement and an acknowledgement of the complications in the feed supply. We will continue to actively encourage our suppliers to source animal ingredients from animals not fed GMO feed and to pursue Non-GMO fed verification. Any product labeled as “Non-GMO” or “Organic” must be verified to standards that do not allow ingredients derived from animals fed GMO feed. 

The focus of our transparency commitment in 2018 is on major agricultural GMO ingredients. At this time, we will not require nutrients or minor ingredients (less than 0.9% by weight in the aggregate) to require labeling.  This is a clarification from our original announcement.

Many yeasts, enzymes and other microorganisms used in the production of wine, beer, cheese and other products are produced using genetic engineering. Both the USDA Organic Standards and The Non-GMO Project do not allow the use of genetically engineered microorganisms. However, the national law does not require “produced with genetic engineering” statements on products that contain genetically engineered microorganisms. Acknowledging the complication this presents for our suppliers, we will not require products in which microorganisms are the ONLY risk ingredient to make a label claim. We encourage customers seeking to avoid GMO microorganisms to choose organic or non-GMO verified products.

We also require all non-GMO claims on food products in our stores be verified by a third-party verification program approved by Whole Foods Market. We currently allow verification through:

  • The Non-GMO Project
  • NSF True North
  • USDA Organic (and equivalent international programs)

We are proud of the achievements we’ve accomplished so far and are excited to see all the work in development come to fruition. We think our customers will be pleased with the results. Shopping at Whole Foods Market – located in 42 states now – makes it even easier for customers who care about GMO transparency in our food.

To learn more about our commitment to GMO transparency, visit GMO - Your Right to Know. Review our tip sheet on How to Shop If Avoiding GMOs to help you take action in your shopping basket today.