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The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

USDA Disappoints: No Regulations on GE Alfalfa

By Walter Robb & Margaret Wittenberg, January 28, 2011  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Walter Robb & Margaret Wittenberg
It is difficult to express how disappointed we are by the USDA’s decision to completely deregulate genetically engineered (GE) alfalfa without restrictions. This news means farmers will now be able to plant Roundup Ready GE alfalfa without restrictions, beginning as soon as this spring. The USDA had been considering two potential decisions on this issue – either full deregulation or deregulation with restrictions. The latter would have set rules to protect non-GE crops from contamination. While Whole Foods Market and other advocates for non-GE and organic foods feel the USDA’s deregulation decision is a setback, we will continue the fight for the protection of non-GE food, as we have ever since genetically engineered crops first appeared in the marketplace. Whole Foods Market advocated strongly for deregulation with restrictions to preserve the ability of non-GE and organic growers to avoid contamination. It seemed that the USDA was finally recognizing that cross-contamination of GE alfalfa could potentially impact organic and non-GE farmers and consumers, both domestically and for our export markets. In fact, by inviting non-GE industry members to D.C. to discuss this issue, it appeared as though the USDA was acknowledging that organic and non-GE agriculture has the right to not only survive, but to thrive alongside GE agriculture. Unfortunately, the USDA’s decision fell far short of this mark, and we believe that unrestricted planting of GE alfalfa without setting any clear coexistence framework, with thresholds for contamination and providing for ongoing testing and verification, is irresponsible. As true advocates of non-GE foods, we had hoped for far better from this process. Here is a post on Samuel Fromartz's Chewswise blog that does a good job of describing the potential fallout. And this blog from the Non-GMO Project website responds to "the misguided distress expressed by the Organic Consumers Association and others in the last two days since the USDA announced deregulation of GMO alfalfa." Many people have asked us why we endorsed the coexistence option rather than an outright ban on GE alfalfa. That was never an option in Washington!  The USDA presented the industry with only two options that they were considering– deregulation and deregulation with restrictions. Given the pervasive planting of GE crops in the U.S. – 93% of soy, 86% of corn, 93% of cotton and 93% of canola seed planted were genetically engineered in the U.S. in 2010 – the option of an outright ban was not on the table. Whole Foods Market — along with the National Cooperative Grocers Association, the National Organic Coalition, the Organic Trade Association, and other companies and groups — endorsed the path of deregulation with restrictions, or coexistence, not because it was a perfect path, but because it was a path to create meaningful change right now in the regulating of genetically engineered foods and the protection of non-GE foods. Because we supported the USDA’s approach of coexistence, certain consumer groups misunderstood our efforts and accused us of supporting big biotech, endorsing the proliferation of GE crops, and turning our backs on our shoppers’ and their desire to avoid GE food. Nothing could be further from the truth! Whole Foods Market has been a staunch supporter of non-GE foods in the marketplace.  We have taken a strong and visible stance on biotechnology in agriculture, and will continue to do so. 
  • We believe that GE food should be clearly labeled, and that the USDA and FDA’s policies on GE foods are not consistent with our consumers’ expectations.
  • Since 1992, before GE crops were even commercialized, we have been educating and advocating on this issue, and we will continue to pursue our right to sell non-GE food.
  • We are proud to be a founding leader of The Non-GMO Project, which works to ensure the sustained availability of non-GMO choices through an industry-wide product standard. (Genetically engineered and Genetically Modified Organism — GMOs — are used interchangeably.)
  • We are committed to sourcing our store brand products to avoid GE ingredients, and we will continue to fight for strong organic standards that do not allow the use of GE crops.
  • We support the National Organic Standards, which prohibit GMOs in organics, and we champion informed consumer choice with regard to GMOs.
  • Our 365 Everyday Value® and Whole Foods Market™ brand products are sourced to avoid ingredients grown from genetically engineered seed, and our partnership with the Non-GMO Project will enable us to verify and label these products.
We will continue to work aggressively on this issue because we believe that GE food ingredients should be clearly labeled, and that consumers who want to avoid them should have an actionable way to do so. While yesterday’s decision will make our work more difficult, we are as committed as ever to ensuring that non-GE food remains available and we will continue to advocate for our farmers and for our shoppers on this issue.
Category: Food Issues




Student says ...
As a whole I like WFM. For a corporation, you've appeared to evade corruption. However, you aren't fighting hard enough anymore. These letters feel like a politician's; you no longer represent the values that I hold. I'm switching to Vitamin Cottage.
03/09/2011 10:02:06 PM CST
Philip says ...
Thank you for fighting the good fight and please do continue.
02/07/2011 5:11:41 PM CST
Brian says ...
Whole Foods is caving. Period. Contamination is guaranteed, as is soil contamination. The only viable mitigation is NO GMOs! OCA nailed you on this FACT.
02/01/2011 6:46:21 AM CST
Angela says ...
I find it so interesting that people are outright blaming WFM for this. Take a look at yourself and put up a fight too! They are trying and as a consumer, I am trying as well. If you're not going to shop at Whole Foods for good quality food, then WHERE are you going to shop?? Walmart? Jewel? They only sell organic foods to jump on the bandwagon, they don't care about the environment and what are they doing about the subject of GMOs?? NOTHING! Stop whining and blaming Whole Foods..you're acting like a bunch of drama filled teenagers. Grow up!
02/04/2011 8:51:29 AM CST
Suzanne says ...
I have a question for all of the people who say they are no longer going to shop at WF... where will you shop instead? Seriously, are you going to go shop at Safeway because you're unhappy about GMOs?
02/04/2011 3:36:34 PM CST
former whole foods consumer says ...
02/04/2011 10:49:36 PM CST
Rick says ...
Choosing the lesser of two evils is still choosing evil. An industry leader and powerful voice such as Whole Foods must be the voice for the ones who can't be as easily heard. Fight to keep the correct option on the table or your whole business model means nothing. I lived in Austin for 13 years and watched Whole Foods grow from a corner store to an empire and I paid the higher prices because I knew what I was getting. Now I'm not sure. You say you will do your best to avoid GMOs. Not good enough. I'll grow my own.
02/07/2011 1:02:37 PM CST
Ula says ...
I encourage everyone who is appalled by this to: 1. Immediately stop shopping at Whole Foods 2. Start passing out fliers in front of your local Whole Foods about this disaster 2. Stop purchasing Organic Valley and Stony Field products 3. Make all local co-ops in your area aware of this so that they stop carrying the products of above
02/01/2011 9:44:48 PM CST
Pamela Demarest says ...
I am disappointed and will never shop at WFM again. You should of stood up for what you truly believed in...now you are no better than them.
02/03/2011 11:36:48 AM CST
sean says ...
I already had heard shady reports about the 365 california line that had products from china. what kind of manipulative marketing is that?! and now conceding to allow GMO products...I think i'm finally done with whole foods. they're more the 'image' of ideal without the follow through
02/07/2011 11:38:59 AM CST
obamalove says ...
I support Whole Foods!
01/28/2011 9:34:18 PM CST
Bill says ...
Does Whole Foods support the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund? If not, I'd like to suggest that you do so. To those that are disappointed with Whole Foods on this issue, I'd like to suggest that you visit the Farm to Consumer Legal Defense Fund and learn more about this organization this truly "fighting the good fight" on this and other similar issues. I think that you will like what you learn about FTCLDF! Healthy regards, Bill
01/30/2011 5:41:24 AM CST
JRC says ...
BOYCOTT MONSANTO NOW!!!!! FOR EVER!!!!!! Mutated deformed impotent cattle are coming. Silent Spring is coming. Armed Revolution induced by starvation is coming to America !!!!!!! Stop the GE/GMO Foods/Feed Crops before the irreversible conflict with Nature cause the collapse of America!!!! NO KIDDING- READ THE SCIENCE- OUR GOVT. is SOLD OUT. IMPEACH EVERYONE!!!!!!
02/01/2011 1:25:56 AM CST
I'm outta your store forever. As the 'holy grail' of organic cosumers, your company alone had the clout to stand up to MONSANTO. Instead, your CEO is in bed with their's. SHAME ON YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This will ultimately put you out of business, as we all starve to death over time from eating foods with no nutritional value that cause disease such as cancer. You have read the studies and chose to "coexist'. What a lovely term for DOOMSDAY!!!!!!!!!!!
02/03/2011 10:39:46 AM CST
Kim says ...
You certainly could have stood with other retailers and demanded that the USDA not approve it at all. Maybe you would have lost. Maybe you would have gotten more than we did. How many current Whole Foods products are produced with GMOs?
01/29/2011 9:49:57 PM CST
Stopgmo says ...
When a ban is not an option, You Make It An Option and Whole Foods had the funds to back a movement! What subterfuge!
01/29/2011 9:51:45 PM CST
Theresa says ...
Have you checked out this Organic Consumers Association page on Facebook? I've noticed consistent bad information posted on their part. It's getting a lot of people angry with you and I'm not sure it's called for.
01/28/2011 10:09:53 PM CST
Toni Reita ND says ...
Time eventually discloses all interests. It's clear, from where I sit, that the USDA has shown a strong, consistent pattern of abuse of the meaning & spirit of what consumers expect with organics. At recent count the USDA Organic program allowed more than 275 synthetic chemicals in the production, process or end "organic" product. To consumers demanding whole, fresh, unadulterated food this represents "organic" fairy dust, betrayal and deception. How can the USDA manage Organic Certification on one hand and be in bed with Monsanto on the other? I believe their recent decisions have shown who their main squeeze really is. Monsanto, Blackwater & Gates would not have partnered if they didn't anticipate difficult times ahead for their agenda. Consumers can, and must, vote with their dollars. Letters to our representatives, or pleading with various organizations are ignored. While we still have the option of truly, raw & unadulterated foods, we need to stop supporting any organization that violates our beliefs. It does take more effort to avoid all GMO, that means you can't even buy a conventional jar of mayonnaise! Aren't you willing to sacrifice convenience for purity and buy nothing that requires a label of ingredients? The lessor of two evils is still evil. Would a more meaningful position by Whole Foods have been to reject both choices and said a loud and clear NONE OF THE ABOVE. I wonder if that might have been more effective? This is far too critical a choice to be left to grade school multiple choice answers. Instead make clear your stance, even if it's outside the tiny box that the USDA provided to direct Whole Foods and the rest of us into. They treat us like cattle to be herded. Stay Healthy! Toni http://www.natural-health-home-remedies.com/gmo.html
02/01/2011 8:38:00 PM CST
Haji Warf says ...
One pro-active way of mitigating the disappointment of your customers and proving, once and for all, that you are "true advocates of non-GE foods" is to set up a labeling requirement for ALL products that seek shelf space at your store. GMOs in the ingredients list? Full disclosure required in order to be carried by Whole Foods. Where's THAT sticker? As the USDA has proven, they are NEVER going to require GMO labeling. And to have just your product line labeled as "Non-GMO" is insufficient. You also have to go the other way -- cover the full spectrum of transparency. Since you have taken on the role, we look to you to provide this leadership in the industry (notice, I did not say, "don't carry GMO products; just require labeling of it). Yes, this prerequisite would be a first for a food retailer, but it certainly would solidify the entire GMO movement behind your efforts. I urge you to lead the market -- it's begging to be captured! Show us you are serious about labeling -- take the responsibility on yourself.
02/02/2011 8:51:57 PM CST
Spencer Essey says ...
As someone who is passionate about wholesome good food for people, I stand with everybody in their anger about this issue, but as I read these comments I realize that the majority of anger here is misdirected towards the wrong entity, and that the true threat here, and the one with which to be angry, is Monsanto. The fight needs to be brought to them.
02/03/2011 2:20:24 AM CST
David Zuckerman says ...
I just curious, does wholefoods carry "natural", "sustainable", and other greenwashing termed items. The reality is that unless something is certified organic or is somehow certified GMO free, then odds are it contains GMO. Look at the ingredents on everything you buy. If there is corn, corn syrup, Soy lecithin, canola oil, etc. etc. then it contains GMO. "Natural" and "sustainable" only mean what the marketers want you to think. Unfrotunately we all have to do our research unless the fod is certified.
02/04/2011 9:08:13 PM CST
WK says ...
this is so disheartening! WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?!
02/04/2011 9:34:46 PM CST
Renee says ...
My family has been shopping at whole foods for several years now, and can no longer support this business. I would drive 40 minutes to the nearest whole foods store a couple times per month, but now you have lost my business entirely. I would spend close to $800/month to feed my family, supporting whole foods mission. I will take my $9,600.00 per year and support my local farmers and our small certified organic stores that are fighting to keep GMO's out of farming industry. You didn't fight hard enough!!! How can you say you "are as committed as ever to ensuring that non-GMO food remains available" after you agreed to coexist? You have stated that "365 Everyday Value® and Whole Foods Market™ brand products are sourced to avoid GMOS." Now, how can we be so sure? How can we trust you? You have not fought hard enough to protect seed purity and the future life of our children. In fact, if Whole Foods was on the front lines, we would all be dead!
02/04/2011 9:57:30 PM CST
John Graham says ...
Somebody has got to get hold of this situation, this inter-bickering. I guess it might as well be me. People PLEASE, Keep your eyes on the prize, and not this internal drama. Don't allow USDA/Monsanto to divide and conquer. Perhaps USDA Disappoints because Whole Foods Market disappoints with a weak stance ! Now I must go and shop at the local community heath food store. The ones who truly oppose GE foods. It looks like this. WHOLE FOODS MARKET took a weak stance of accepting coexistence with transgenic pollution. (The self-admitted polluter is Monsanto. Transgenic pollution happens by transfer of pollen by wind and honeybees.) This "coexistence" would be if the USDA approved partial deregulation of GE Alfalfa The USDA then decided to fully deregulate. Why? Perhaps because Whole Foods Market took a weak stand. I am very disappointed with Whole Foods Market. I have read and understand Whole Foods Market's reasons, BUT WHY DID YOU NOT BARGAIN WITH THE USDA ? WHY DID YOU ACCEPT THEIR 2 MEASLY OPTIONS ? WHY DID YOU NOT STICK TO THE VERY REASONABLE STANCE OF NON-DEREGULATION OF GE ALFALFA ? Please Whole Foods Market, seriously consider where that weak stance got us. NOW ALFALFA IS DEREGULATED. Once the pollen is out, it is irreversible. PLEASE WHOLE FOODS MARKET, AFTER BEING TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF BY THE USDA, CHANGE YOUR POSITION TO NON-DEREGULATION OF GE ALFALFA Bargain from that position, not a weaker one. If you can change you ways, I will come back to your market.
02/11/2011 8:35:56 PM CST
trayntp says ...
Two words...Jeffrey Immelt. Of course Obama's USDA did this.
01/28/2011 5:54:49 PM CST