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Supporting Organics Organically

Organic FoodI was pretty disappointed late last week to learn that there was a smear campaign afoot, by a group claiming that Whole Foods Market is working to "undermine" the integrity of the organic food label. What?! It seems like this happens every couple of years, usually based on some sort of claim that large food corporations are inherently evil and out to dilute the organic standards to make organic food cheaper to produce so they can make millions off of unsuspecting, gullible shoppers. Insert your best evil laugh here: Mwah-ha-ha! Ludicrous yes. True no. We'd have to be insane to push for weaker organic standards. A strong standard gives food shoppers something to trust. The "organic" label represents a strong regulation that ensures the food is grown without toxic and persistent chemicals on environmentally friendly farms. We fought hard for decades to get that regulation established and the last thing we'd want to do is jeopardize its value by chipping it away. A small and passionate group of people who wanted to create a natural and organic alternative to the mainstream conventional grocery stores of the era opened the doors of our first tiny store 30 years ago, about four blocks from where I'm sitting now. Since day one, we've supported organic agriculture, and we now offer more organic products than our founders could have imagined back in 1980. And we add more and more year after year. Here are some basic facts about our commitment to organic:
  • We offer more organic products and devote more space in every store to organic food than any other supermarket.
  • Since 2005 we have seen our sales of organic produce increase by more than70%.
  • For produce alone, we work with more than 1,000 certified organic producers.
  • Since our beginning, we have done more than any other retailer to support and grow organic agriculture in the U.S. Every single year, we have increased the amount of organic products that we sell.
  • Everything we sell that is not organic must pass our own strict quality standards, and we sell both natural AND organic products because our customers want us to, and because not all products are available as organic.
  • We define "natural" foods in our stores as products that meet our quality standards. These standards are the product of decades of research and aren't the least bit vague about what ingredients are allowed in our stores.
  • We have always pushed for strong organic standards and will continue to work actively to ensure that the integrity of the USDA label is not diluted. Strong national standards make it easier for Americans to trust the meaning of the organic label.
  • We helped create the National Organic Standards, and we served from 1995 to 2000 as the retail representative on the National Organic Standards Board.
  • We are the first national certified organic grocer, becoming certified in 2003. Even though the organic standards don't require retailers to be certified, we decided to open the doors of each of our stores to inspections by USDA-accredited certifying agents, who make sure that what we're selling as organic is truly organic.
  • Whole Foods Market will continue to take an active role in ensuring that the USDA definition of "organic" matches the expectations of our shoppers. I personally attend nearly every meeting of the National Organic Standard Board, the stakeholder group that advises the USDA on organic agriculture. We carefully monitor any proposed changes to the regulation and work actively to make sure that the standards continue to represent a clear, strong definition of organic.
USDASpeaking of Washington, it is an extremely happy time for organics at the USDA. You've probably heard about Michelle Obama's garden on the White House Lawn, but have you heard of the organic "People's Garden" at the USDA? Creating an organic garden at USDA was one of the first acts of new Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and it serves as a very tangible representation of an unprecedented commitment to organic at the USDA. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan - #2 at the USDA - is one of the country's foremost experts on organic agriculture. She helped author the Organic Foods Production Act and the National Organic Standards during her time as a congressional staffer, USDA administrator and National Organic Standards Board NOSB member, and most recently directed the graduate program in food policy at Tufts University. She has voiced her intention to make organic an integral part of all USDA programs, and to increasing enforcement of the organic standard. Leadership like this at the USDA is going to lead to a better-funded and more efficient National Organic Program and enable organic agriculture in the U.S. to seriously flourish. Featherstons FarmsFeatherstone Fruits and Vegetables — Certified Organic Growers Before 2002, there was no national legal definition of organic. Outside of the few states that had regulations, anyone could sell anything as organic without regulation of the agricultural practices they used. The national organic standards we have now are a huge step beyond the unregulated wilderness we had before, and it's in all of our interest - retailers, growers, manufacturers and consumers - to stand together and make sure that definition stays strong. Undermining the standard serves no one. Whole Foods Market is at the heart of organics, always has been and always will be. If you've got questions about our support of organics, let me know and I'll do my best to get ‘em answered.

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says …

Michael: Thanks for your note. To clarify our position on “natural” – we have been strictly defining “natural” based on our own quality standards for over 20 years. This isn’t a new category for us. While there is no governmental definition for “natural” food in general, we’ve regulated what the term means in our own stores. The natural foods sold in our stores may contain non-organic agricultural products, but they won’t contain artificial flavors, colors, hydrogenated oil, or any of hundreds of other unacceptable ingredients. We define ourselves a natural food store, and the standards that underlie that “natural” claim have formed the basis of our shoppers’ trust that we’ve “done the homework” in selecting products for our stores. All the food we sell meets our quality standards, which are our definition of “natural.” Let me know if you have any questions!

Michael Chelnov says …

So it sounds like "natural" is a step up from the normal american grocery store fare.... 1)As tested randomly, It does not have persistent pesticides and environmental contaminants, but it has been grown with pesticides and other contaminant containing fertilizers etc...just they are not present when randomly tested.... 2) it's basically conventionally grown but "not too bad on the pesticide front", and has no artificial ingredients or added trans fats. Some points that come to mind.... 1) It may seem to you that it is an innocent new category, but it seems to me that it does imply in some way that it is almost like organic.... 2) Organic is supposed to mean natural ...the reason people buy and eat organic is because they want natural.... 3) Is there a national "natural " food rule? (actually that is the USDA organic rule...) 4) I think it is a confusing use of the word natural. 5) why have you created this category? does it have a marketing advantage? A sincerely concerned shopper

Mary S. says …

Dear Joe, I also read the "Alert of the Week" article about Breaking The Organic Monopoly listing Whole Foods and United Natural Foods, Inc. Something to remember. . . the importance is not so much how the media frames or presents an issue, it's what is the truth. At the end of the day, Whole Foods will still be around, they will still champion organics as we know it now and have a very real effect on shaping what it will become going forward. Whole Foods is the reason people are aware of organic foods, farms and practices...at the end of the article it says, Will you stand up for organics? Sounds like you will...so will I. That means I will still be shopping with WFM. The important thing is that we continue to keep ourselves well...good job!

linda ohair says …

I've been a Whole Foods shopper for almost 20 years and what I really love about shopping here is Whole Foods ethics. I've read about, researched and tasted tons of WFM products. It is rare when I get anything that doesn't live up to my high standards for what food should do (feed us in a natural, healthy, and sustainable way) taste like (delicious, fresh, and healthy), and cost (fair pricing for quality). But most of all I'm truly grateful that there is still standing a food market where I can buy food that is safe to eat and where I can find an amazing variety of products that I want. I detest the kind of smear campaigns that do nothing but create fear and doubt in a world where there's too much of that going on. People who start these kinds of campaigns must themselves be running in fear that the masses are catching on to what traditional food markets dish out under the label of food. I for one am grateful there is a company like Whole Foods that I can shop at and know my family and myself are getting real food!! Keep up the good work!!

dr a k sharma says …

i am 68 today and declare as true veteran and pg vetrinarian that organic is divine nature in true form safe strong and tomarrow science is going to prve its REALfood/keep up the good work

rebecca Meisch says …

with monsanto owning 90 percent of the soybeans and doing all they can to own it all, where will you get your seed?

Annie Booth says …


Noah says …

Are they not genuinely cured with any form of insecticide or pesticide. Take note however that the USDA organic seal only assures you that the farm uses the appropriate organic methods and procedures. Food may be one of the essential necessities individuals from Stone Age, so at the end of the morning it could make much sense to nibble on healthily as well as naturally as you can to ensure us to reside a long as well as a healthy life for many decades ahead. The Chef created a delicious salad with a beet and red wine vinaigrette and finished it with just a little goat cheese. This incident illustrates why so many responsible processors and marketers in the organic industry shun organic imports,.