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FOOD, Inc. is Hungry For Change

Rachael is part of our team dedicated to answering emails, letters and phone calls from our customers. Food, Inc.When films like FOOD, Inc. (in select theaters on June 12th) open, people always contact us with questions about how we do things at Whole Foods Market. Sometimes the questions come from people who are our long-time, loyal shoppers and sometimes they come from those who are brand new to us and want to learn more. Some of my teammates and I checked out an advance screening of FOOD, Inc. so we could get a head start on answering the possible questions coming our way. Check out a trailer of the film:
FOOD, Inc. takes a peek into the supply chain of much of the food we eat and talks about the consequences of the way food is currently grown, raised and processed. Consequences like deadly new strains of E.coli, epidemic obesity, type II diabetes, pollution from pesticides and feedlots, and the effect this system has on people in the industry. Although this subject matter sounds both complicated and mind-numbing, FOOD, Inc. presents the information in an engaging and interesting way. I know that many of our shoppers are aware of the issues and concerns of the current industrial agriculture system and that they shop with us because we offer an alternative. I thought I would share some of the things in the film that I found compelling, and how we do things differently at Whole Foods Market. For me, one of the most jarring aspects of FOOD, Inc. was the perspective on how the patenting of Genetically Modified (GMO) seed has changed farmers and those in the agriculture business. The film looks at how Monsanto's GMO crops have affected people like seed cleaner Moe Parr, who was sued by Monsanto for something as seemingly innocuous as saving seeds. Seed cleaners go to farms at the end of every planting season and clean seeds so they can be saved and planted the following season. This seems innocent enough, but since Monsanto owns the patent to their seeds, it is illegal to save them and farmers must buy new seed from Monsanto to plant the following season. Even if a farmer did not plant a Monsanto crop, farmers are held liable if cross-pollination occurs and patented seed or plants are found in the farmer's possession. Parr was sued by Monsanto and fought them in court until he could no longer pay his legal fees. Whole Foods Market has long been concerned with the effects of GMOs, and we have partnered with the Non-GMO Project, a non-profit organization created by leaders in the organic and natural products industry to develop an industry-wide non-GMO product standard that will allow us and other manufacturers to verify that products are non-GMO. We also formulate our Exclusive Brands products to avoid GMO ingredients and we champion organic products, which by law cannot include GMO ingredients. FOOD, Inc. also looks at the cheapness of processed foods and how that is affecting the health of our country. The film follows one family through the drive thru and to the grocery store, where they opt not to buy broccoli because it is cheaper to buy a large bottle of soda. The family talks about the hundreds of dollars they spend on the father's medication for diabetes and other health issues, and they see the correlation between nutrition and health, but they feel they can feed their kids more food for less money by buying dollar menu hamburgers and soda, and so they don't see a way out. Trust me, this had me feeling sad and scratching my head. At Whole Foods Market we're committed to the idea that you don't have to spend a lot to eat well. Our stores offer value tours to teach customers how to shop on a budget, and our Whole Deal program offers money-conscious recipes, coupons and the items we feel are Sure Deals - the best deals in the store. The film also addresses meat production, and our shoppers always tell us that one of the most important issues to them is the way our meats are raised. At Whole Foods Market we are passionate about animal welfare, and we have worked hard to develop rigorous standards for our meats that have taken into account the comfort, physical safety and health of the animals. The poultry and meat we sell are raised without being administered antibiotics or added growth hormones. Through on-farm visits, we collect and verify information from all of our producers about raising and handling practices, feed, facility design, environmental conditions, employee training, medical practices and animal welfare at the farm, in transportation, and throughout processing. We offer both grain-fed meats and grass-fed alternatives. At Whole Foods Market, we are all about choices. FOOD, Inc. lifts the veil on a number of issues in the food industry, and whether you resolve to eat locally, organically, non-GMO or just healthier, we are proud to offer quality food choices that you can trust, as my Team Leader Margaret always says, "whatever your food trip!" Once you see Food, Inc. let us know what questions it brings up for you. Enter a comment below and we'll work on addressing them in future posts.

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91 comments

Comments

Kelly says …

@Vince, Vince I agree control does need to be taken back of our food supply. But I think it is the farmer who needs to take back control. Right now farmers are doing what big companies and the government are telling them to do so they can survive. They think it is the only way. If farmers cut out all the middle people and sold directly to the consumer it would be a much better system. The consumer could find out the what's and how's of their food and even go directly to the farm if they wanted! Consumers need to stop just looking at the words 'organic' and 'free range' and all the other hot new words out there. They need to go directly to the farmers and ask the questions to find out what is best for them. Because there are a lot of farmers out there that grow their products to near organic standards but either don't go through the process to be certified or are missing minor things to be considered. This does not mean there food is any less healthy. It also costs money to become certified and usually yearly fees to keep the certification. I also would like to put this out there...what is better for our environment and health? Organic food from a store where it has traveled hundreds of miles OR fresh grown food from a farmer 50 miles (or closer) away? Just because it does not say organic does not mean it is not extremely healthy! Farmers need to get their voices out there. Right now the industry gets a bad name and the voices out there and let the public know what farming is really about and that we are not all like the big factory farms!

Ryan says …

Dear Rachael, I have seen Food, Inc. and I have now read your "rigorous standards." While I greatly prefer Whole Foods to other mainstream grocery stores, these standards leave me quite unsatisfied. The gross ambiguity in these rules, can only relegate them to a position of placation in contrast to genuine industrial transformation. Whole Foods needs to make a stand with their shoppers. We're there, and we're ready to help you out. You need to make transparent food processing a hallmark of your organization. If this happens we will do all we can to help out. The farmers will be more apt to work with you and genuine transformation may begin. Thank you, Ryan

Kristin Zaal says …

Hi, I watched Food Inc. last night and went online looking for responses to the film. That is great that you have an educational program to teach people about healthy eating and how to shop on a budget, but I was thinking that it could go further. Does Whole Food Market accept food stamps? Is there a way to make natural foods affordable to people like the family in the film? How can we help families like this understand that if they spend their money on healthy foods, they won't need the diabetes medicine anymore. How could Whole Foods Market make your educational program accessable to those who need it? Could you target schools? Do you do anything like this? I would be very interested to know as I think it would be a wonderful thing!

says …

Whole Foods Market does accept food stamps (EBT) and we recently partnered with Ann Cooper, the Renegade Lunch Lady to spearhead efforts to bring resources to public and private schools to improve their school lunch programs.

Katherine O. says …

Rachael, First: As of late the labels on my Silk containers no longer say Organic they say All Natural. By all accounts bacillus thuringiensis, the bacteria bred into GMO’s by Monsanto Corp. are all natural. It's a naturally occurring soil bacterium that kills and mutates insects that make the mistake of ingesting it. The word organic appearing on this container would ease my mind, but it's gone. The worst part is I never noticed the change one day it said organic and one day natural. This and the fact that there is so much evidence stacked up against Silk through The Cornucopia Institute I only have one question. WHY IS WHOLE FOODS STILL SELLING SILK? Second: I have a few serious issues with you’re quickness to defend Silk brand soymilk and tell your customers we are misinformed. You are defending Dean Foods not White Wave. The current question is weather Dean's buyout has resulted in Silk now being made with GMO soy and soy from China. How dare Whole Foods defend Dean? Have you forgotten your roots? Yes you have many contracts tying you to them including Horizon Organic Milk (made by Dean) but continuing to sell Silk soymilk that is genetically engineered with bacillus thuringiensis and soy bathed in Hexane (a byproduct of gasoline) is immoral. You are supposed to be saving us from this type of danger not poisoning us yourselves. Are they paying you? I’m sure firing all those organic farmers lined their pockets. DID IT LINE YORS? Why else would you defend someone feeding your customers poison. I hate to put you in the line of fire but if I can’t trust Whole Foods to protect me from chemicals in my food, whom can I trust? If Whole Foods truly believes in better food for a better world you will pull every container of Silk off your shelves tonight and send them back to Dean. Or you risk being the biggest hypocrites in the history of time.

Stacya says …

Thank you for talking about this movie, Food, Inc. I just watched it, and I knew a lot of the stuff already, but I was blown away by some of the seed patent stuff and how it affected these small farmers. Thanks for your great blog.

Christina says …

I loved this movie. I was completely unaware of how many problems were within and coming from the food industry. I'm definitely changing my ways as much as I can affford. However there were some problems in the movie that have no solution. While I understand that we need change, its not going to be simple. One problem I have discovered living near cattle ranchers is the difficulty of raising "organic" beef. My friend has cows that are grassfed in the mountains, obviously breeding and eating organically. However, my friend innoculates his cows. The cows receiving medicine automatically makes them non-organic. However for a farmer, paying for a twenty dollar shot is a smarter investment than allowing a $700 cow die, and possibly spread more illness. Perhaps change would come easier for the food industry if we had reform in big business as well as in labels.

Paul Montgomery says …

I am frustrated with some of what I have seen here in regards to how Whole Foods meat is raised. Please replace phrases like "We offer meats that are never given antibiotics or added growth hormones, are fed a vegetarian diet, and that are raised with the animal’s welfare in mind." with more specifics! What do you mean "with animal welfare in mind?" Especially with poultry, Whole Foods chickens are now "Barn roaming." What does that mean??? My specific request is around chicken please define what specific standards for a chicken's welfare you employ. And if there are no specific standards, please understand that the caring and wise consumer is forced to assume the standards are low.

says …

Hi Paul, You can find a brief summary of our benchmark standards here: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/products/meat-quality-standards.php. We are also in the process of rolling out a 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Program, currently in place in our UK stores and being tested some of our regions in the US. More details on this rating system can be found here: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/kensington/animalwelfare.php. Ultimately, we hope it will allow consumers to make the most informed choices available in their meat purchasing. Thanks, Winnie

Grine Blog says …

People must think of what they eat ...

Mark I. says …

Dear Rachel, Thanks for your comments. 'Food, Inc.' made it easier for me to become a vegan, just on principle. The unethical treatment of livestock turns my stomach and makes me sad. Furthermore, the unfair treatment of the 'human animal' in this country is unjust and corrupt. I have hope that one day lobbying for cheap unhealthy 'food' monopolies and seed patents by big agribusines will be criminalized and demonized! In the meantime, thanks to Whole Foods for providing a safe and healthy alternative to informed peoples everywhere!

Alysoun Mahoney says …

I'm following up on Paul Montgomery's Dec. 19, 2009 post, in which he asks for a definition of "barn roaming." Whole Foods team member Winnie Hsia points him to http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/products/meat-quality-standards.php , but that page does not seem to provide a definition of the term. I myself am vegan, but I am seeking to buy the most humanely raised meat possible for my cats - because so far, at least, the bulk of scientific evidence still seems to indicate that cats must consume some meat. I bought some "Whole Foods Market (R)" Air-Chilled Chicken at your Clarendon, VA location today - and really want to know what this term means. I would also like to know whether any of the meat you currently sell comes from animals who can truly be said to have been raised humanely.

says …

Hi Alysoun, we understand your concerns about purchasing humanely raised meat for your cats. Rolling out later this year is our 5-Step Animal Welfare Meat Rating system, which will help customers make very detailed, informed decisions when purchasing meat. We are currently piloting the program in our South region and we will keep you posted as details come out. The term ''air-chilled" refers to the technology for rapidly cooling eviscerated birds in cold rooms to keep bacteria at a minimum and does not directly relate to the animal's quality of life.

Valerie says …

Sounds like a very interesting movie.

Donna Harmon says …

Food Inc.was really enlightening. It discussed several issues, from GMO's to meat and processed food production. I was impressed with how the information was presented in a clear way with video documentation to back up the information. Anyone who wants to eat healthier or thinks they are eating healthier, should watch this video. Some of the things we take for granted as being safely produced and that we perceive as healthy are not.

Elena Eccellente says …

Is the chicken you sell fed non-GMO grain? I know it is not given antiviotics or hormones, but I don't see anything posted about non-GMO feed.

Alice Jane says …

Hello, I was wondering if Whole Foods in Pennsylvania accepted EBT payments. It was also in the film that most farmers markets and natural food centers didnt and that it was a cause for so many low income families to chose an unhealthy diet since they had no other option when they recieve food stamps. Thanks!

paig292 says …

@Alice Jane: Yes, all of our U.S. stores accept Electronic Food Stamps. Thanks for asking!

Eric M says …

Shannon, yes I agree that humane killing is an oxymoron. But I wasn't sure I could really be a vegan when I decided to try it after seeing the movie Earthlings http://www.earthlings.com and "Fresh" http://www.freshthemovie.com But I was determined to give it my best go after having the realization that farm animals were essentially no different than my cats or dogs. After sticking through it for a month or two, I came to see that eating vegan is delicious, healthy and nowhere near as hard as I thought. We're creatures of habit and like anything else, once you break the habit it becomes effortless and natural. I'm at my college weight and don't even worry about counting calories or watching what I eat anymore. So much thanks goes to Whole Foods for their unparalleled support of plant based foods!

paig292 says …

@Jan We do have very specific guidelines concerning the welfare of animals raised for meat. We have been working for 10 years on increasingly more stringent animal welfare standards and have now chosen the Global Animal Partnership 5 Step Animal Welfare Rating as the welfare certification we will present in our stores. While other animal welfare certifications are well respected, the 5 Step program provides us with specific and detailed information that we have determined is necessary to assure that our customers’ expectations are met. Our producers also have the incentive to strive for higher levels of animal welfare over time and be recognized for the improvements made. Global Animal Partnership 5 Step Animal Welfare Rating standards have been developed for beef cattle, pigs and broiler chickens and are in the works for other species as well. Our producers are being audited now to determine their Step ratings and our meat cases will reflect these certifications by the end of 2010. It’s been a long process, and we are excited that it is about to hit our stores…and to change the way animals are raised around the world.

Alan says …

I'm new to Whole Foods. I have always avoided it because of the cost. This movie has changed the way I shop and I will certainly be visiting my local Whole Foods more often. Stay True!

Jan says …

Questions raised by Food, Inc.: I don't see anything on your website about how chickens are treated by your suppliers. Are they required to be free-range or have a minimum amount of clean space to live in? Are they bred to have huge breasts that their body can't support?

Emily M says …

It is relieving to know that you guys at Whole Foods uphold what I look for in the quality of my food, as my family shops mostly with you. After watching Food, Inc. and taking a course on food politics I have become aware of many of the industrial food system's ills. I think another huge problem is access to good food. You say that, "At Whole Foods Market we’re committed to the idea that you don’t have to spend a lot to eat well." I must respectfully disagree. Even for my family (a well-to-do two-parent household, both my parents are professionals, and I am the only child they must feed), it is still an economic burden to buy good food at places like Whole Foods. It is extremely expensive to shop with you, but my family sacrifices the extra buck for good quality and "sustainably produced" food. For families who are struggling, however, shopping at Whole Foods is simply not a reality for them. I believe a huge problem, as outlined in Food, Inc., with our food system (GMOs, livestock antibiotics, industrial production, etc) is a problem of unequal access. All across the country, masses of people do not have the means to eat healthily: either there is no access to it or they cannot afford it. I'm not blaming Whole Foods because I would argue it is not their fault. As a business, Whole Foods cannot sell below the cost of production like many corn-products can. The industrial food system coupled with government policies prevent people from shopping at places like Whole Foods who sell "healthier" food because the production of junk/fast food (and "bad calories" like HFCS) are highly subsidized by the government. To mechanize change, people need to begin demanding for access to better foods and putting an economic strain on the industrial food system in hopes that the government will react. But in the mean time, families must put food on the table. When you can't afford fresh produce and can only buy a BigMac, what is there to do?

Keith Warter says …

I watched Food inc. for the first time with my Food Sustainability class at UC Berkeley, and I thought it was a great film. I knew that our food system was getting bad. I had heard about the unfair lawsuits Monsanto had been filing in a documentary called "Know Your Food," and I can see that we have an obesity epidemic. What I was amazed by in Food Inc. though, is that it showed farmers being highly profitable without "selling their soul to the devil" so to speak. Food Inc. really gave me hope again because I was beginning to think that there was no way for our capitalistic society to be sustainable. Although the concept of beginning to only shop at local organic farms is ideal, I think it may be somewhat utopian in our system, at least in the present. There are always going to inherently be those people who want more than they need, and they are going to try to produce more of there product so that they can become "rich." I think that human nature, at least within a society enculturated with the present media in america, with the infatuation with celebrities, gangster rappers with bling bling, and all of the like, is going to be compelled to get high status because they see this as a way of obtaining more value in themselves, and of getting the things they have been enculturated to value like a big house, a fast car, fine women, or "respect." I think that the fact that that one farmer in the film was producing far more than he needed, but he was still doing it in a moral and fairly sustainable way is really good news for us. At least until we can stop advertising excess in the way we do, it will show those people that strive for excess that they don't have to sell out their farm to Tyson or buy Monsanto corn to do it. They just have to be organized, and in the long run they probably will make even more money because they wont accidentally kill a twelve year old boy with their product and get into a lengthy lawsuit, nor will they need to invest a bunch of money in some hydrochloric acid professional cleaners, or some weird ammonia product that must be added to their meat, and that will probably end up causing cancer and lead to yet even more lawsuits.

Ruth Ake says …

My family has low income. we receive EBT, and was wondering if whole foods accepts EBT near my local whole food market?

Bepkom says …

@RB: Thanks for your comment. Please check in with your local store to see if they can offer a tour in Spanish.

Bepkom says …

@Barbara: Yes we do, however please double check with your local store as our product selection and availability varies around the country.

RB in Los Angeles says …

Rachel, I noticed you mentioned Whole Foods Value Tours are available to inform customers on how to eat healthily and affordably. I am Hispanic and have three Spanish-speaking family members with diabetes - they don't eat as well as they should because of the affordability of food. Would Whole Foods consider giving these Value Tours in Spanish considering that a large number of the Hispanic population- especially in Hispanic-dominated markets such as L.A. - would benefit from them? Thanks in advance, RB in LA

Barbara Davis says …

Do you carry Healthy Valley brand chicken and beef stock?

Bepkom says …

@Hope: Our product selection varies quite a bit around the country. Please check in with that store directly. Thanks!

Hope Sceer says …

Does the marlton store in nj sell "cal-organic' produce.

lancaster auto body says …

More people need to read this and understand this aspect of the story. I cant believe you're not more popular.

paving reading pa says …

This really answered my problem, thank you!

el ponny down says …

Hi! We're student's of Voramar's school, situated in Barcelona, Spain. Our teacher is Mirela, she is from Croacia. We've seen the food inc film and we enjoyed a lot. We think it's an interesting film that the people around the world have to see because it make all them concience about what's happening in the industry food and whatr are they really eatting.

Mirela says …

Hey there! We are Oriol and Clàudia and our techer is Mirela. Our opinion of the documentary is: The condition oh the aliments isn't usually good. The proof is in the film. The film show us the bad condition of the growers and the animals. Also the bacteries and the E.Coli. We think that the film is a good way to demostrating. All of us have to know the condition and know what are we eating. We enjoyed a lot watching this documentary,now, we know what we have to buy when we want to eat meat and other food. Thank you Mirela for showing us this film.

CM98 says …

We are students from a Spanish school (Voramar). Mirela is our English teacher. Our opinion: This documentary is incredible and disgusting, it say things that we don't know, like the chikens that die because the organs and the body don't grow up at the same time that the bones. But it's interesting, We learn a lot of things that I don't know: people with diabetes (1 of 2 americans!), E Coli bacteria, etc... We can't understand how they got to this situation. But it's a good documentary, We really recomend it.

Mirela says …

We are two Catalan students from the High school, and on the last lessos we have been watching the Food Inc documentary. This film showed us a lot of things we didn't know anything about. Now, we are able to choose which food we like to eat and which food we should buy and where. We agree that people all over the world are living without knowing the truth and ignoring dark sides of the system that can bring such consequences as the death of people you love or simply yourself. We both think that it will be difficult to solve this problem, and it's too far from now a days. But if we all collaborate and make an effort, the change will arrive. We think that we, the consumers, have got the power. If we all do our bit, we will change the system.

Mirela says …

Hi, I'm an English teacher from a school called Voramar in Spain. My students have seen the film and are posting comments about the film using my name and e-mail to protect their privacy, given they are all minors.

Mirela says …

Hi!!!!! We're students of Voramar's school, and our teacher is Mirela Domitrovic, so now we will do an explain of our comment. We think that the process of the meat would have to stay banned because some childrens died because they eat an infected meat, so the conclusion that we have is that the process of the meat is unhealthy and dangerous for the health of everybody.

Elena says …

Hi! I'm from Voramar school, in Barcelona and Mirela is my English teacher. I think that the film is very good because the people usually don't know what the film talks about, the fast food and all the industries of fast food. It's very impacting to learn about the diseases that all the fast food can provoke for the chemical substancies, like Diabetes and Obesity. We don't know it, because the taste of this type of food is good but there are many bad things behind it. It's not bad to eat it, but only sometimes, with control.

Mirela says …

Hi, we are students from the school Voramar, and we have seen the film. The film was very interesting because it shows us the truth about the food, how it is produced and where it comes from. We think this is a good form to show to the society what happens with the things we eat. An example is the subject of chickens, living in a very small enclosed and dark space, causing an accelerated growth and this raises sanitary issues.

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