An Open Letter to Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan’s new book The Omnivore’s Dilemma has been near the top of the best seller’s list since it was published in April, and it deserves to be. This is mostly an excellent book which I strongly recommend people read, along with Peter Singer and Jim Mason’s new book The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter. Both books are real wakeup calls about how our food is being produced in the United States today, and how our food choices potentially can make a positive difference in the world. While Singer and Mason have many nice things to say about Whole Foods Market in their book (especially regarding our approach to improving farm animal welfare), Pollan is far more critical and skeptical about many of Whole Foods Market's practices, both in his book and in subsequent interviews about the book in the media. Unfortunately Pollan did not carefully research Whole Foods Market's actual practices while writing his book so many of his comments about us are either inaccurate or misinformed. The letter that follows is one I gave to Pollan in person on May 25th after I spent a delightful hour and a half in productive dialog with him. (I have also included an additional section called “Creating a Third Way with Country Natural Beef” that was emailed to Pollan a few days after our meeting.) I found him to be highly intelligent, a good listener, open minded, thoughtful, and idealistic—all in all quite an interesting and impressive person. I came away from my dialog with him convinced that we will likely become proactive allies working together in our joint quest to reform “industrial agriculture.” I only wish we had met and had this productive dialog before he wrote his book. Unfortunately we didn’t and as result many misunderstandings are now circulating about Whole Foods Market as a result of his book and recent interviews. This letter is an attempt to address those misunderstandings.

 

I want to acknowledge that the following letter was not written by me alone but was a joint product of several people, including valuable contributions from Margaret Wittenberg, A.C. Gallo, Edmund Lamacchia, Jim Speirs, Kate Lowery and Anna Madrona. Thanks to everyone who participated.

 

May 25, 2006

 

Dear Michael,

I am deeply appreciative of your efforts to encourage your readers to take a closer look at where their food comes from. I especially like the way you lead your readers to understand that their everyday choices do make a difference both in the food supply chain and the environmental sustainability of the planet. As you point out in the "Big Organic" (Supermarket Pastoral) chapter of your book, credible information about the sources of our food in conventional foods stores is limited to non-existent.

As the co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market, I lead an innovative business that has offered customers numerous choices in natural and organic foods for more than 27 years. Yes, the business has grown in size — from one store to our current 184 — keeping pace with the increasing popularity of these products in the developed world. And, as a Fortune 500 company, we might be considered a big company by many people. However, Whole Foods Market has done more to advance the natural and organic foods movement in general and local organic growers and artisanal food producers specifically than any other business currently operating in North America. These points are not mentioned in your otherwise engaging examination of modern food systems. Quite the opposite, in fact, as you go out of your way to criticize Whole Foods Market and associate us (unfairly and inaccurately) with what you call "Industrialized Organic" and "Big Organic."

Whole Foods Market's co-presidents, Walter Robb and A. C. Gallo, and I try to be available to the media, as you might have realized during your research on other pieces that have been written on our company in the last few years. I am not aware of any attempt on your part to contact company leadership in any way. I greatly enjoyed reading your book Botany of Desire and I certainly would have enjoyed speaking with you in person while you were conducting your research. I may have been able to clear up some misconceptions before they appeared in print.

Because of our success and growth, Whole Foods Market attracts a lot of praise, comparison and, sometimes, hostility — along with the occasional puzzling ethical or moral judgment. As a retail business that operates at a level of transparency far exceeding that of almost any other business of its size, I find this curious but figure that these judgments are a by-product of our success. Your book focuses on several points, either by implication or actual statement that I find troublesome in terms of their accuracy. I want to provide you with additional background on these points and provide you with the names of Whole Foods Market spokespersons who can assist with any research materials or clarification that you may need in the future.

I regret that you did not engage in any serious research about how Whole Foods Market actually does business or you would have discovered that we support local and small farm food production all over the United States as well as in other parts of the world. Whole Foods Market, despite its size, does not operate as a typical monolithic corporation such as Wal-Mart (with which you associate Whole Foods Market several times in your book). Our company continues to operate on a decentralized model wherein each of our 11 regions, as well as each store, has a high level of autonomy. Differences in product offerings, suppliers, and seasonal availability result in a significant variation of items on our shelves from region to region and even store to store within the same city. However, our strict quality standards, the highest in the industry, are observed with every supplier and retail outlet. In other words, you may find a variation in the types and kinds of products, but each has been screened by our rigorous quality standards.

Before I provide you with examples of how Whole Foods Market supports local growers of natural and organic products and artisan food producers, I want to emphasize an important point about our company. Whole Foods Market offers a range of food choices to our customers. We screen our offerings by the quality standards I mentioned earlier and try to offer as many natural and organic products as possible, but we don't try to channel our customers into adopting any particular dietary regime. Instead, we provide opportunities for each to make individual choices that satisfy their everyday demands and lifestyle needs.

Some customers prefer to eat primarily from their "foodshed" or they wish to support local growers. Individual Whole Foods Market stores attempt to meet the needs of these customers as far as is practical given the constraints of seasonality and availability of products meeting our quality standards. Other customers want to enjoy particular foods from throughout the world, either because of their ethnic background or because they appreciate expanded choices and novel cuisines. Most of our customers prefer a combination of local, national, and global food choices, and appreciate — even demand — the range of choices Whole Foods Market offers.

We understand the line of reasoning that champions eating locally and in season. Whole Foods Market stores offer as many local, seasonally available foods that meet our quality standards as are available in a particular market area. Our customers, however, regularly desire products that may not be in season in many parts of the United States. Accordingly, due to such market demand, we offer the freshest, most sustainably grown products we can find on a year-round basis while also continuing to develop our relationships with local and regional producers in season. That may mean that a Whole Foods Market customer desiring fresh organic asparagus in January will find only spears with an Argentinean or Chilean origin in our produce department. Many of our customers want fresh asparagus and this is where we can reliably source organically grown produce at that time of year. In your book you report the following: "My jet-setting Argentine asparagus tasted like damp cardboard. After the first spear or two no one touched it." I want to apologize to you for your unpleasant experience with our Argentine asparagus and I've enclosed a $25 gift certificate to help compensate you for your negative experience.

The following information provides key points about Whole Foods Market and its supporting role in the growth of organic and sustainable agriculture over the last 25 years. I will also include examples about how Whole Foods Market works with natural and organic food producers at the local and regional level. I am providing only highlights. Should you wish to follow up on any of this information, I encourage you to contact:

  • Margaret Wittenberg, Vice President of Communications and Quality Standards
  • Kate Lowery, National Public Relations Director
  • Jim Speirs, Vice President of Global Non-Perishable Procurement
  • Edmund Lamacchia, Vice President of Global Perishables Procurement

Organic: Whole Foods Market is a Big Part of the Story
I find it perplexing that your book provided so little context for the history of the organic movement in the 20th century. The snapshot your book provides on the current state of the organic industry is just one stage in its evolution. The organization of the organic movement started in the 1960s in limited areas. As organic farming and foods were embraced by the counterculture in the 1960s and 70s, networks of co-ops developed and came together for purchasing and distribution purposes. These soon dissolved since members could not agree on ideals and because most of the co-op models were not economically sustainable. A few of these models still are working, including one I belonged to in Austin many years ago, however none of them have been able to offer a strong enough market presence to sustain local or even regional agriculture.

In the days when organic co-ops were plentiful, very little product actually came from small-scale, local, progressive farms. The cornerstones of the income statement in the early co-ops were rice, apple cider, peanut butter, cheese, tofu, eggs, some seasonal fresh products, and membership fees. In the 1960s and 70s, agriculture at the local and regional level was already in decline, having been decimated by low producer prices, lack of concern about diet by the American consumer, increasing desire for fast foods, decline in food quality, and an increasing, government-supported focus on chemical practices. Local agriculture hit rock bottom in the mid-1980s. The Greenbelt Alliance along with developing marketplace forces driven by the increasing numbers of "California Cuisine" restaurants and the for-profit natural foods sector supported many of the young growers who created the next generation of family farms. Without that effort in the 1980s, the snapshot that you capture in "Big Organic" would not have the same appearance. The focus on integrated marketing (including direct-to-consumer sales), crop diversification, product differentiation, and the general move toward agricultural sustainability through Integrated Pest Management (including organic) practices preserved and created the current resources that exist in local and regional agriculture. By offering multiple outlets for their products and working tirelessly to educate consumers, Whole Foods Market stores, along with many regional independent stores, are an integral part of saving and supporting regional and local agriculture.

As one regional example, in the 1960s and 70s, very little organic produce was actually available in New England. During our limited local season, Bread & Circus (which started in 1975 and became part of Whole Foods Market in 1992) bought vegetables from a few local small farms that were just outside of Boston. The farmers claimed that their produce was organic but without any national or local law defining the term, the organic label was used loosely. Still, our customers loved the freshness of the local product after a winter of week-old organic produce from California, much of which arrived by air in the early days (imagine the relative cost of that produce!). By the early 1980s, we had a few more stores in the area, therefore more buying power, and we started to buy, through brokers, from legitimate organic farms. Our selection was still very limited, maybe 20 percent local organic in winter, but at least at this point we had real, local, organically grown produce from trusted sources.

The local organic farm scene grew in the 1980s as young farmers experimented with vegetable growing and delivered directly to our stores. As the number of stores in the region grew, we opened a small distribution center. These farms appreciated the convenience of sending a produce-filled truck to a central distribution point from which we could deliver to our stores. This development allowed the farmers to maximize their efforts on the farm, rather than spend so much time on the delivery, and allowed us to receive more frequent produce shipments in the stores. We still buy from the farmers that we originally worked with in the 1980s, if they are still in business. As part of Whole Foods Market, we have grown to more than 30 stores in the New England and New York area, and our local growers have a much larger market for their products.

But the limited growing season and the dense population in New England force any food business to make choices in meeting consumer demand. Whole Foods Market customers are going to eat fresh fruits and vegetables in the winter. We have the choice of either offering them conventionally-produced vegetables or organically-produced vegetables that will have a lot of transportation miles on them. The organic fruits and vegetables at this time of year are going to be from large farms to insure quality and supply, and some of them may be from organic producers in another hemisphere.

Local Procurement
In other parts of the country, we sell a tremendous amount of locally-grown food, working with thousands of local producers. For example, in 2005 in the produce category alone, 45% of our suppliers were considered to be local (within 200 miles) and 34% were regional (within 400 miles) —only 21% would fall into your category of "Big Organic" national producers. Of our top 150 suppliers/brokers in the produce category, 22% of our purchases are from large corporate farms and 78% are from independent and family farms (some of these smaller farms pool together under one brand name to help improve marketing and distribution). 60% of these 150 suppliers grow organically, and/or represent growers who do so. Economies of scale are important at all levels of the organic food chain in order to lower costs and improve distribution.

As a decentralized company with 11 operational regions and 8 distribution centers, Whole Foods Market is highly unusual when compared to the average "industrial" operation. Regional distribution helps suppliers gain access to all stores within the region, a benefit to their bottom line that otherwise would not occur in a conventional grocery operation. Whole Foods Market continues to build distribution centers, which increases our ability to support regional and local production. Our individual stores are not prohibited from purchasing from local farmers, and, in fact, all of our 184 stores purchase regularly from local growers. Many growers, likely the ones you profiled as "missing in action" at the Berkeley store, are probably using our distribution center on their own volition to take advantage of distribution economies of scale. As a result, the growers spend less time on the road, and place their product in front of a much larger customer base.

Continuing on the theme of seasonality and distribution, the local grass-fed beef sold in the Union Square Farmers Market that you have publicly championed is fresh for a very limited time during the year and would need to be sold frozen for the majority of the year, if sufficient supplies were actually available to meet demand. Whole Foods Market does sell locally-raised meat whenever possible, however most of our customers want their grass-fed meat fresh, rather than frozen, and they want it year round. We can source an abundance of fresh meat from New Zealand, which, with its moderate climate, has an abundance of good pasture throughout the year. Although Whole Foods Market would like to sell local grass-fed beef regularly, another challenge is that a small producer typically needs to sell the whole animal, which leaves Whole Foods Market with the cuts our customers will not buy. Our farmers in New Zealand have different markets around the world that absorb the cuts our customers will not purchase. The farmers in New Zealand can move the beef more quickly, selling Whole Foods Market the cuts that our customers prefer and selling the other cuts to customers elsewhere. We do try to make it work whenever we can, such as with a local organic beef farmer from Southern Vermont who sells to our three stores in New York City. With a great deal of effort, Whole Foods has figured out how to market this producer's entire animal. The popular cuts like rib eyes and strip loins get sold as premium product, while the end cuts get made into hamburger and stew meat for our prepared foods section.

Whether local, national, or global, any meat producer we buy from must adhere to our strict vendor standards and criteria. Whole Foods Market has the highest natural meat standards in the industry, and we are spearheading the development of national Animal Compassionate Standards (which several European countries have in place, but which are lacking in the U.S.). In addition, Whole Foods Market provides educational support for producers through our non-profit Animal Compassion Foundation. As a side note, you may be interested to know that many of our meat producers do not finish off their animals with corn. They are grass-fed until the end.

Here are additional examples of how Whole Foods Market supports local growers and producers:

  • In our South Region, consisting of Georgia and the Carolinas, we set up a mini co-op to consolidate product from local vendors. Whole Foods Market also provided a market for the row crops produced by former tobacco growers (who were part of a government project to grow alternative crops instead of tobacco).
  • In the still-recovering New Orleans market, local shrimpers rely heavily on the two Whole Foods Markets to buy their catch.
  • In New England, Whole Foods Market works with many small farms that supply a single store, several stores, or many stores through our distribution center. Some specific examples are:
    • Our Hadley store in western Massachusetts sits in the Connecticut River Valley amid many small farms, and has authority to buy from local producers. During the season, Hadley buys local produce from over 25 small local farms.
    • Whole Foods Market stores in eastern Massachusetts are encouraged to source from local growers; this results in many stores having their own individual growers from the local community.
    • In the Tri-State area of New York, customers define "local" in a very narrow geographical area. Customers in northern New Jersey do not consider product from Connecticut or Long Island "local," even though the farms might be geographically closer to them than farms in southern New Jersey. Our customers in Jersey want Jersey produce in season. Whole Foods Market developed a complicated system that distributes Jersey produce to the Jersey stores, Long Island produce to our two Long Island stores, upstate New York produce to our NYC stores and Connecticut produce to our Connecticut stores.
  • Our flagship store in Austin supports local growers and encourages in-store product demonstrations and samplings. Our local Texas growers, like the Goodwins from Buda, Carol Ann and Larry from Boggy Creek Farm in Austin, and the folks from Bella Verdi farms in Dripping Springs, are frequent guests at the store. Whole Foods Market and these growers see our businesses as a part of each other's on-going success.

In addition, Whole Foods Market works with local food artisans on a market by market basis. Scratch bakers and dessert makers, tortilla producers and fresh salsa crafters, hummus experts and falafel sandwich purveyors, gourmet dog biscuit peddlers and handmade jewelry artists all have shelf-space. Products offered at Whole Foods Market vary store by store, thus supporting the local producers in each market. We most decidedly do not have a cookie cutter model for our stores, other than our model for celebrating local foods and producers.

On-going Support for Organic Agriculture
Whole Foods Market was a pioneer in the organic arena, we did not wait to "get on board" with organic until its health and environmental benefits were corroborated by science and economic analysis. Whole Foods Market has supported organic agriculture from our earliest days in Austin, Texas. We actively sought out sources of organic produce and food since 1978 and continued this practice as we grew. Did you realize that Whole Foods Market was the sole retailer representative on the federal National Organic Standards Board for five years? And that we continue attending National Organic Standards Board meetings and maintain a close watch on the issues to ensure the ongoing integrity of organic standards. Whole Foods Market led the consumer response against the USDA's draft National Organic Standards that included provisions for genetically modified food crops, the use of human sludge as fertilizer, and irradiation of food products.

Whole Foods Market chaired the Organic Aquaculture Feasibility Task Force in 2001 to explore whether organic standards could be created for aquaculture while still maintaining organic livestock standards and principles. The task force suggested it was possible but would take a lot of work to achieve. Unlike many other retailers, Whole Foods Market will not allow either wild or farmed fish sold in our stores to be labeled as organic since neither has a national organic standard currently in place.

Whole Foods also led the citizen outcry at the potential diminishment of organic livestock feeding standards. The Congressional newspaper Roll Call noted that Whole Foods Market's efforts alerted legislators and consumers, resulting in an overwhelming amount of direct consumer feedback to individual legislators. Whole Foods Market took the lead on this issue rather than waiting for the organic community to develop an action plan because of an extremely short timeline.

Whole Foods Market was the first national grocery retail chain to be certified as organic. While not required by law, we felt this certification would underscore our commitment to organic and would provide assurance to our customers that even as the company expands, our commitment to organic is as strong as ever.

Helping Convert More Agricultural Land to Organic
The most important story about the rise of organic agriculture is the reduction of the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, many of them petroleum based, and/or produced and distributed with huge energy inputs. Beyond this impressive reduction in the use of pesticides, many of the agricultural practices developed within the organic community have spread out into conventional agriculture with tremendous beneficial impacts. Some of the more significant impacts include:

  • The use of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) in the strawberry industry, the use of border plantings and cover crops to protect water ways and improve soil tilth, and the development of insectaries for producing beneficial insects improve the quality of the food we eat while protecting the environment.
  • Acres of land in California treated with cancer causing synthetic materials: 1989 = 5.2 million, 2004 = 3.8 million – 28.8% reduction, with similar acres in production
  • Pounds of pesticides known to cause cancer applied in California: 1989 = 181 million, 2004 = 175 million - 3.3% reduction (unfortunately the positive story is in specific counties and on specific commodities)
  • Acres of land in California treated with reproductive disrupting synthetic materials: 1989 = 4.5 million, 2004 = 2.3 million – 49% reduction
  • Pounds of pesticides known to cause reproductive disruption applied in California: 1989 = 36 million, 2004 = 24.12 million – 33% reduction
  • Pounds of registered pesticides applied to Strawberries in Monterey County: 1985 = 10.5 million, 2004 = 3 million – 71% reduction
  • Pounds of registered pesticides applied to Artichokes in Monterey County: 1985 = 162,908, 2004 = 62,567 – 61.5% reduction
  • Pounds of bio-pesticides with little environmental toxicity applied in Monterey County: 1984 = 1,037, 2004 = 7,000 – 575% increase

Your book implies that some large-scale organic farming is harmful to the soil and environment. Your farm visit to Greenways may have misled you into making gross assumptions about other organic operations. The implication that some large-scale organic farming practices release harmful nitrogen into the atmosphere is curious when it is not even clear that Greenway's practices produce harmful nitrogen emissions.

Soil with healthy organic matter converts excess nitrates into dinitron (N2). N2 is an inert nitrogen gas that does not add to the Greenhouse Effect, and generally perpetrates much less environmental harm than nitrates. Stanford University's Department of Biological Sciences released a paper in March of this year entitled "Reduced Nitrate Leaching and Enhanced Denitrifier Activity and Efficiency in Organically Fertilized Soils," that reported organic and integrated fertilization practices support more active and efficient denitrifier microbial communities, which may shift some of the potential nitrate leaching losses in the soil into harmless dinitrogen gas losses in the atmosphere." Granted you did not have access to this information while you were writing, however, similar research findings are available.

Walking Our Talk with Organic Dairy
Whole Foods Market's private label milk is from the nation's largest cooperative of organic family farmers, CROPP. CROPP was founded in 1988 by seven Wisconsin-based farmers who were attempting to meet the crisis of the loss of family farms. The 533 small to mid-size member dairy farms feature a herd-size average of 66 cows. The certified organic, traditionally pasteurized milk (not ultra-pasteurized) is produced and bottled in California, the northeast, northwest, and midwest, and is distributed nationwide by Whole Foods Market. The farmers who belong to CROPP are dedicated to humane animal practices such as pasturing and allowing animals to express natural behaviors.

Other organic milk suppliers who sell to Whole Foods Market are audited (by Whole Foods Market team members with backgrounds in animal husbandry) for humane raising practices, including commitment to a pasture-based production system. I personally went to visit two of the largest organic dairy farms last week that have been highly criticized for their animal welfare practices (particularly their inadequate access to pasture). One of these farms has made very substantial changes to their pasture access and has been unfairly attacked, in my opinion. The other dairy is definitely a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) using organic feed and is violating the spirit of the current organic dairy standards. Tougher organic pasture standards will be necessary to force this dairy to upgrade their practices. Whole Foods Market does not buy any milk from this company. Whole Foods Market has strongly urged the USDA and the National Organic Standards Board through the public comment process, as well as through a detailed, public presentation at the April 2006 USDA Organic Pasture Symposium, to tighten up humane animal care standards for organic dairy cattle, specifically focusing on pasture as a requirement for raising and feeding these animals. The organic pasture requirement for dairy cows was not well specified in the original regulations, and this has led to some abuses. However, I am hopeful that this flaw can and will be corrected within the organic regulations in the coming year.

Creating a Third Way with Country Natural Beef
Whole Foods Market is very committed to the success and sustainability of smaller family ranching. I believe this is a solution of scale that lies squarely between your “Joel Salatin” meal and the “industrialized organic” meal. As we both know, the reality of regional foods from family farms and ranches is that very few can produce the volume to effectively market themselves outside of small farmers’ markets. Farmers’ markets are a good thing to be sure, but by themselves, they aren't going to have the scale or the convenience to really reform industrial agriculture in the United States.

While you point out that industrial organic is a modest improvement over conventional industrial agriculture, I believe a third path is possible. Previously I explained how Whole Foods Market has partnered with CROPP to supply all of our stores with organic milk under our private label (with average herd size of only 66 cows). Another great example is Country Natural Beef (CNB), who we’ve been trading with for over 12 years now. Like CROPP, CNB represents a viable “Third Way” for small family farms to find success in an industrialized agricultural world.

By joining together, the ranchers who make up Country Natural Beef take advantage of the reality of the cattle business as an extremely capital-intensive and low-margin business that takes 27 months from conception to processing. They mobilize member capital to fund what amounts to a wholesale meat company to directly reach their retail partners like Whole Foods Market. Here are the numbers:

  • Country Natural Beef was paid more than $26 million in 2005 for beef representing more than one quarter of Whole Foods Market’s total national beef sales last year.
  • The approximately 89,000 cows raised for Country Natural Beef are spread over 92 family ranches, averaging 542 cows per ranch, along with five larger ranches (averaging 7,800 head each) such as Padlock Ranch, which is operated by 18 family members who hold ranch ownership under one name.
  • Less than four percent of money is used to run the business, meaning that almost $25 million of those dollars paid from Whole Foods Market went directly to 97 individual Country Natural Beef member working ranches.
  • Those dollars are responsible for bringing 11 young families back to family ranches during the past 12 years and are helping hold well over four million acres of land as open space as cattle ranches.
  • Whole Foods Market works with Country Natural Beef to set mutually beneficial prices based on sustainable ranching costs of production.
  • All Country Natural Beef ranches are third-party certified by the Food Alliance for humane animal handling, equitable labor practices and sustainable, environmentally friendly land management.

Whole Foods Market’s ability to partner with many more cooperatives of producers with shared values such as CROPP and Country Natural Beef could make a significant, meaningful and lasting impact on the land and the success of agricultural families.

This is not “supermarket pastoral.” Whole Foods Market’s commitment to buying and promoting regional foods from family farmers and ranchers is real, and the solution demonstrated by the success of Country Natural Beef is something to observe and study.

CAFOs & Whole Foods Animal Compassionate Standards
Whole Foods Market shares the concerns you expressed in your book about large scale CAFOs, whether these be conventional or organic. These "factory farm" operations need to be eventually outlawed, in my opinion, and this is an area where major change is necessary in the organic regulations. Whole Foods Market is so concerned about the way livestock animals are being raised for food in the United States that we are in the process of creating Animal Compassionate Standards, which we are hopeful will eventually have a revolutionary impact. Creating these standards has been a multi-stakeholder process with many dozens of animal farmers participating along with representatives from several animal welfare groups — Humane Society of the United States, PETA, Animal Welfare Institute, VIVA, Animal Rights International, and Compassion Over Killing — plus a number of internationally renowned animal scientists. We have been working with these stakeholders for over 2 1/2 years now and have created final standards for ducks, pigs, sheep, and beef cattle. The Compassionate Standards for turkeys, lobsters, and broiler chickens are very near completion, while laying chickens and dairy cows will be completed before the end of 2006. I urge you to review the standards that we have already completed, which are available on-line at: https://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/issues/animalwelfare/index.html#standards

Animal Compassion Foundation
To help facilitate both research and the conversion of conventional animal farm over to more compassionate livestock operations, Whole Foods Market created the Animal Compassion Foundation. So far Whole Foods Market has donated more than $1.3 million to fund the foundation over the past two years. I urge you to take a look at the important work this foundation is doing to better the lives of farm animals. Animal Compassion Foundation

The Future Evolution of Organic Foods
Industrial agriculture grew tremendously throughout the 20th century. Synthetic fertilizers, synthetic pesticides, and synthetic herbicides were not in widespread use 65 years ago. There were no such things as CAFOs more than 40 years ago. GMOs are less than 20 years old. The organic movement has largely grown in response to the industrialization of agriculture. It is a reform movement that has been growing and evolving for less than 60 years, and didn't gain any serious traction until about 20 years ago. The first stage in the "Organic Reformation" has concentrated primarily on getting the synthetic chemicals off our farms and out of our food. We have made great progress in achieving this goal considering where we started from. However, we now know that getting the synthetic chemicals off our farms and out of our food is only the first stage in the Organic Reformation. Much, much more is needed — especially with improving the soil, dismantling CAFOs, improving local organic production and availability, and improving animal welfare. Rather than despair that the Organic Reformation has been corrupted by the industrialization of agriculture, I believe that we simply need to evolve to the next level. Your book is an important contribution for raising consciousness for the need for further evolution of the Organic Reformation. Joel Salatin's farm is a valuable example and model for what is possible and is an inspiration to many of us. Many organic farmers are beginning to work with similar methods that Salatin has pioneered. You are probably already familiar with Holistic Management International. This non-profit organization is helping to spread effective pasture management systems similar to what Salatin has done. It was founded by one of Salatin's mentors, Allan Savory. You can find their website at http://www.holisticmanagement.org/index.html in case you aren't familiar with their work.

Offering the First Lower Priced All-Organic Line in the U.S.
Finally, with our private label 365 Organic product line, Whole Foods Market offers our customers every day, affordable organic choices from "soup to nuts." Well aware of our moniker "Whole Paycheck," through initiatives like our organic store brands and the purchasing discounts we can now enjoy because of our size, our food prices have decreased in many categories over the last few years. Our prices for the same products are actually lower for many staples than those in conventional grocery stores or competitor natural foods retailers, while our selection continues to include a range of items from staples to higher quality or more exotic choices.

In summation, Whole Foods Market has supported the growth of, and driven significant demand for, organic agriculture for more than 27 years. Throughout this time Whole Foods Market stores have supported local growers and food producers in store market areas. Because of our unique, mission-driven business model, our success has allowed expansion throughout the hemisphere and into Europe, where we can offer healthy and environmentally sustainable food options to an ever increasing customer base in store environments that celebrate good food and an abundance of choice. I am not sure if merely because of our size and success Whole Foods Market deserves the pejorative label "Big Organic" or "Industrial Organic," or even to be linked to those categories. I would argue instead that organic agriculture owes much of its growth and success over the past 20 years to Whole Foods Market's successful growth and commitment to organic. As an organization we continually challenge ourselves to be responsible and ethical tenants of the planet. Through our stores, large and small organic farmers, both local and international, can offer their products to an increasingly educated population that is more interested in organics every day.

Again, I value the wake up call provided to such a wide audience by The Omnivore's Dilemma with its overview of the social, ethical, and environmental impacts of modern food production. Whole Foods Market is extremely excited about the possibility of a more educated and informed consumer base. However, I feel that the book misrepresented key points about Whole Foods Market, and this leads me to question some of your objectivity as a journalist. Much of the organizational, economic, and social and agricultural activism leadership information about Whole Foods Market is readily available from a variety of public sources. In addition, our leadership team members, many of whom have been with the company for more than 15 years, are readily available to speak with the media. Going forward, I trust that the information I've provided will find its way into your making a more accurate portrayal of Whole Foods Market. Michael, Whole Foods Market is one of the "good guys" in this story about the "industrialization of agriculture." We want to transform our food procurement pathways into more holistic, ecological, and sustainable systems. We should be working together as allies to accomplish this essential mission.

Sincerely,

John Mackey, Co-founder and CEO
Whole Foods Market

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Bill Doak says …

As a former board member of Hartford's Down to Earth food co-op, I could not resist the call to chime in after reading the comment that co-ops, as a business model, are untenable. Interestingly enough, one of the largest economic powers in Great Britain, which happens to be a free market economy, is a business co-operative that has expended far beyond the grocery business. Co-ops such as this now are among the fastest-growing economic sectors in Britain with ventures in nearly every aspect of consumer culture. In the United States, the cooperative movement continues, albeit at a far smaller scale than enterprises based on a market which values free movement of capital above all. "Above all" is defined by me as value-added, including labor, which comes from making the effort to organize the cooperative system of purchasing. The Down to Earth Food Coop ceased operations in the 1980s. The 'faulty business model' which caused DTE's demise turned out to be simple: At the request of the membership, we opted to sell meat at our newly-expanded storefront in the inner city. This was made without adding security. As a result, since the store was open to non-members, losses in the store's expensive meat department could not sustain the small profits realized in all other aspects of the operation, i.e., bulk grains, spices, breads, produce, soys and cheese. And, since the store operated on loans and thin margins, that was it for them apples. Reading what the CEO of Whole Foods had to say, the first thing which I noted - before reading all the praise of WFM employees - was the preamble of thanks to the corporate underlings whose job it is to support the WFM business model. When we ran our co-op, the best PR we had was the testimony of the members themselves. In other words, we did not need to create a whole philosophy or order the marketing department to innoffensively articulate what we were doing - it was sufficient that we simply worked together with a common goal while at the same time accomodating various tastes and needs among our members. It was fun, and it was also a lot of hard work. The strange thing was, as much as I missed the camaraderie, and the work alongside my fellow members, when the coop folded there was also a sense of relief and, as our fearless leader was wont to say, "Mission accomplished." The values such coops instilled, particularly operating in a competitive urban environment, managed to educate, and inform. In a society where we don't want our food to look us in the eye, there's nothing wrong with a little cooperation among us eaters. Bill Doak

Ken Farber says …

Thank you John Mackey for your (and Whole Foods') support of local and sustainable agriculture. As you know,the mass of your consumers, as well as myself, are passionate about the well-being of our local and global community. Tears literally come to my eyes to see your genuine commitment to locally and sustainably grown foods. It is so very important! You serve a leadership role for me. And, as you know, you more and more are having a profound influence on agriculture on this planet. Please do your best to be a good steward of this responsibility! With great respect and love, Ken Farber,consumer, and probably soon-to-be stockholder with Whole Foods Market.

Ramki Sreenivasan says …

A fascinating, highly educative and non-emotional response to the debate....Cheers! Ramki, Bangalore.

Tom says …

I've read Mr. Mackey's letter and Mr. Pollan's response. I agree with Mr. Pollan that even though there may be a significant amount of local produce at Whole Foods, it's not that evident; at least not at the Whole Foods in Pittsburgh. Perhaps Mr. Mackey can dedicate a portion of each store's produce department to strictly local produce so that it is all in one place. If this is done, the name, address, and telephone number for each producing farm should be posted next to each product as well. Also, as a dietitian I want to thank Whole Foods for the service they provide in educating the public on nutritious food choices. You have also made my job easier if offering products to special-needs consumers (e.g. gluten free products, products without any hydrogentated fats, etc.). Please keep up the good work and keep fighting the good fight.

Pierre Ferrari says …

Thank you Mr. mackey for a very thorough and fact based response. it was a little depressing to see Pollan attack one of the "good guys" so recklessly. We progressives always seem to bring ourselves down. As a suggestion: I do think that more can be done at the store level with greater transparency on source of produce. I beleive Wegmans actually creates 2 distinct areas for its produce-local and "imported." it makes it really easy to support local farmers. WFMI has the added complication of organic and "traditional." Can you think of a term for pesticide/herbicide artificially grown produce that might be at least a little disparaging to those practices rather than the rather comforting "traditional?" Traditionally, as you point out in your repsonse, as recently as 65 years ago, there were no articial chemicals in our agricultural system. Yours respectfully. Pierre Ferrari

Keith Roberts says …

The real problem arising from the entry of Walmart, Safeway, and other mainline retailers into the organic food industry is that those firms and their suppliers are bound to seek a weakening of organic standards and definitions. Firms are always trying to modify the legal conditions that affect their operations to make their own life safer and easier, and do not hesitate to circumvent inconvenient conditions through dishonesty if the risks or penalties are low enough. Since the standards are set and maintained politically, the battle will be political as well. In this as in many other areas, the price of freedom is eternal vigilence.

Dave says …

John Mackey's letter strikes me as sanctimonious. I'm a regular Whole Foods shopper because it's really the only good place within walking distance. I've been going there for years. One thing I can't stand about being in the store is the pervading atmosphere of political and environmental correctness, which comes at the expense of people with average or below average incomes. There are whole sections of the store I never visit because I know I can't afford 95% of the items on the shelves. It's that odor of wealthy clientele who couldn't care less what their total is when they are checked out that really stinks up the store. They're in there with me; I'm in there with them; but their options -- intentionally on the part of the store -- are much greater than mine. It may not be a rip off -- there are the Whole Foods brands, after all -- but it is offensive. And there is NO WAY that bringing in apples and pears from New Zealand is good for the planet! If we don't have foods when they're out of season, so be it. That's nature! That's the cycle of nature! Let people wait. There's nothing wrong with that and many things that are right about it. We need to be conscious of limits. If Whole Foods can't recognize that and act accordingly, what good are they? Burning up fossil fuels to bring this produce over the seas is part of the problem, no ifs, no ands, and no buts. Whole Foods is part of the problem (as well as part of the solution), but don't go giving us this high and mighty ration of bull about the good graces of Whole Foods. Dave

Joel Salatin says …

I'm delighted that this exchange is occuring. John's defense is unnecessary. That he would choose to battle this out in public indicates some soreness. I've been maligned many times and choose to let it go. Time will tell, and it will on this too. I think if Whole Foods, with its new purchasing requirements, wants to mount a campaign to prove it has taken the higher road, the campaign's success will depend completely on whether or not Whole Foods patrons actually visit any of the farmers whose pretty pictures grace the store. John, I invite you to visit our farm and see how commercial-scale, environmentally-enhancive pastured livestock models can work. To be fair, I wish you would point out that the biggest impediment to Whole Foods or any other outfit offering local dairy, poultry, and meats is the USDA's malicious and capricious food infrastructure regulations. These have nothing to do with safety, but everything to do with precluding community-based food systems. Organic is not comprehensive. Grass is the key. I know that years ago local farmers supplied our nearest Whole Foods, but no more. That is enough. Anyone who wants to check out our farm for themselves is welcome, anytime. We don't trademark or copyright or seek market share. And sales objectives are not on our radar. Better to be good than big. Joel Salatin

Rick Birken says …

Once again, Mr. Mackey attempts to paint himself as the same person who pioneered Whole Foods Markets. That guy disappeared very quickly. For many years now, you have grown your business not by offering more organic food, but by buying everyone else in the industry and crushing through your economic power the smaller businesses that used to exist and now do not. I know, that's the way Ayn Rand would want it. The fact is, I could get more orgainic produce from the local tiny shops around here than I can at Whole Foods. Those stores no longer are able to carry organic produce, if they even exist at all, because you have destroyed their businesses just as WalMart has destroyed Main Street businesses all over the country. The organic selection at your stores is quite limited, almost none of it is local despite your claims to the contrary, and the price is prohibitive. When you began your business in Texas, you did amazing things to expand the organic industry in this country. You are to be applauded for that, you and John Hightower, who deserves a lot of the credit. But come on, Mr. Mackey, you're a monopolist now, not a natural foods industry pioneer. Your employees, the ones we encounter on the floor, know so little about what the store carries, it's embarrassing. All that knowledge that used to exist at the smaller stores is gone, probably forever. I know; I managed small health food stores for eighteen years, and when I ask a question of your employees I cringe at the answers. Just today I went to your Arlington, VA store and you had one kind of organic apple for sale, at over three dollars a pound. I know, it's out of season, the gas prices are high to ship them here--but one kind of apple? The only competitor you have left out here had six. So please, enough with the constant crocodile tears. You're fortune 500 now and you act like it, it's who you are now. You're Exxon, General Motors. You're not Whole Foods anymore. You just kept the name. I know, because this was my industry--there's local organic agriculture everywhere, but it's hard work to contract with all these little folks. You've lost since stopped caring or trying. Most of the smaller suppliers have had to sell out in order to meet your demands, that's why the industry is now so consolidated that the Hain Celestial Group has most of the shelf space in your store--the rest is about the same stuff we find in the supermarket, especially your bakery. Not one spelt bread! Geez, I'm tired of your complaining every time somebody mentions that you've changed. Why not embrace it? It has been, after all, your choice.

anna says …

Friends When I travel to an area with a Whole Foods i definitely put that in the schedule. I just saw a Whole Foods ad today that states WF is purchasing renewable energy credits to use for stores, distribution centers etc. This led me to the website which in turn led me to the blog, John Mackey's response (how many CEO's respond with a compasionate tone to criticism)etc WF, thank you for taking the toxins out of the air. Thank you for the 5 cent bag refund among other things. John Mackey seems like a very compasionate being. I will search for the 60 minutes interview. Thanks for the other responses and together we can! Anna

Adam Stark says …

Mr. Mackey, I work for a mid-sized health food store, and I am proud of the work I do. I also enjoyed Mr. Pollan's most recent book immensely. I would, however, have a much shorter response to it than Whole Foods'. Simply, we are not sustainable. Not us, and not Whole Foods. We try hard to promote that which is good in the world, but we compromise every single day. Otherwise, we would not be in business. Period. If we want to stay in business, we NEED to have strawberries in New England in January; instant microwaveable single-serve breakfast cereal in three layers of packaging; rare Australian botanical medicines when local herbs would do the trick just as well; water from Germany; pasta from Italy; and commodity soy lecithin from god-knows-where. I stay in this business because I believe that, despite all I've just said, I still make the world a better place. I think Whole Foods does, too. But let's not be blind -- and let's not let our customers be blind! -- to all the ways we need to be better. Sincerely, Adam Stark

Ricardo Rabago says …

If interested Organically Speaking has released an audio conversation with Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. We our introducing a new audio comment system today, you can now leave an audio comment on any of our posts. You will find an "Insert Audio Comment" link at the bottom of the usual "Add Comment" space. All you need is a microphone! Try it out and let Michael and John know what you think about the show! http://OrganicallySpeaking.org/ All the best, -Ricardo

Layla Masant says …

I have read both Michael Pollan's book, and now your letter of response. I appreciate your civil and diplomatic tone along with the comprehensive explanation of Whole Foods bio-ethical and bioregional food policies and practices. One thing, however, jumps out at me, upon which I would like to comment and suggest: You say Whole Foods is working tirelessly to educate consumers about regional and local agriculture, then in almost the same breath you state that because some of your consumers want asparagus in the middle of January, you reach to Argentina to bring it to them. These two statements contradict each other, and my suggestion for resolving this contradiction is as follows: Use asparagus as an educational example and tool to educate and explain to the asparagus eaters, and everyone else coming into your store that you are no longer offering asparagus in the winter months, to give them a first hand experience of what it means to "eat local and in season". This shows people that it's actually not natural to eat asparagus in the winter, and there is probably some fantastic bio-intelligent reason for that, that your food biologist can explain on a colorful, laminated sheet next to the winter squash you got from a local farm. I know you will not do this with all your non-seasonal far-away produce, but the one example will start the educational process. I'm suggesting you say no to winter-shipped asparagus because of its particular cultural-ritual connection to springtime on the American table. Now THIS would give consumers a direct and personal experience of seasonal food realities. Otherwise, I'm afraid that your policy of giving your consumers whatever they want, whenever they want it, is the very philosphy of food industrialization, corporatism, capitalism-run-amok and dare I say addiction. In this vein, I would suggest that you please stop enabling people's ignorance of the organic realities of food in season, and firmly but gently, and yes tirelessly, give the American consumer a much-needed boundary. By this one small act, you would be doing the whole world a great and noble favor. Sincerely, Layla Masant

Kelli Provencio says …

Having read the above response to Omnivore's Dilemma, but not the actual book, I will refrain from commenting specifically on that except to say that John Mackey should be applauded for his company's efforts to better the lives of farm animals, even if everything else Whole Foods has done should be taken with a grain of sea salt. Additionally, I have been a Whole Foods patron for several years despite living on a college student's very small food budget. I am able to do this, I believe, because I avoid purchasing the expensive produce, (conventional or organic, local or distant, in or out of season), and many of the specialty items, in favor of my much less expensive, local, seasonal, all-organic co-op. And because I pick and choose carefully the items I do purchase at Whole Foods. What I do find Whole Foods valuable for is bulk foods, which are most often less expensive and offer the flexibility of purchase in small or large quantities according to the needs of my single-person household, specialty vegan items unavailable elsewhere (what conventional store sells slices of vegan cake for the occasional treat?!), and the wide selection of environmentally sensitive, cruelty-free, and health-conscious personal products, especially those available in their less-expensive Whole Foods brand, such as shampoo, conditioner, and shower gel. As anyone on a budget can attest, shopping entirely out of Whole Foods is just not feasible for me. However, I do appreciate them for providing the wide variety of products they do, and for working within their corporate frame to make the world a little better for us all--animals, including human ones, and planet.

Cynthia Odell says …

First of all, not many are going to want to wade through your prolific open letter. And no one is going to take your letter seriously when there are passages in it that are grammatically incorrect. Maybe your sidekicks helped by contributing their input, but y'all don't know the correct usage of "who" and "whom". To the "meat" of the subject. I had occasion to be in your White Plains, New York store; I can tell you from observation that that particular store, for whatever reason, is only about 30 percent organic. The only organic meat you have in the store is chicken. If you have organic beef and pork in your New York City store, why not in White Plains? What's good for the goose should be good for the gander - no pun intended. And you do not 'WALK THE TALK'. You do not have any of your packaging marked "HUMANELY HANDLED" - so don't give anyone any BS about how you care so much for the animals' welfare. If you did, you wouldn't be selling meat at all!!!!!!!!!! By indicating how well you care for the animals' welfare, you are just using another marketing strategy for saying the same thing and appealing to a broader audience. Therefore, people can feel better about what is being done to the animals on their way to the slaughterhouse as well as when they arrive there. You're just like everyone else, Mackey. You're all about the money and the bottom line. You appear to have the morals of an alley cat. I apologize to the cat! I do "Walk the Talk". I don't eat anyone with a face!!!!!!!! I'm on a plant-based diet and better for it. So should everyone else be. But when ignorance is bliss, tis folly to be wise, ay? Very truly yours, Cynthia Odell

Alice Crowe Bell says …

I notice that you make mention Whole Foods efforts to support local suppliers. You cite significant statistics supporting your efforts. What efforts, if any, does WF's make toward supporting minority firms, or women owned firms? Can you cite some statistics or requirements that minority or women own firms should now when trying to do business with WF'S. Thank You.

Patrick Rea says …

Interesting point-counterpoint article on organic farm size in Organic Times magazine. http://www.naturalfoodsmerchandiser.com/ASP/articleDisplay.asp?strArticleId=2042&strSite=NFMSITE&Screen=ARTICLEARCHIVE

Don Gartman says …

I did not find Whole Food's treatment in Omnivor'e Dilema at all critical ; but then again, probably any large endeavor to supply the masses with wholesome, organic food raised in a sustainable way would be problematic. My wife and I belong to a Wild Foods group here in West Virgina. We hunt and forage and gather at a member's home each month to prepare, consume, and discuss our "findings". But imagine how quickly a Wild Foods Corporation would run into trouble with landowners, state and federal agencies, public interest groups and, of course, the news media! In fact, as Pollan noted, we are way beyond the carrying capacity of the land to provide wild food for the US population--which is now over 300 million! The point is, I think, industrial food will always dominate the marketplace, but there is plenty of room and for providers like Whole Foods and local farmers markets to offer people choices. Actually, I wish we had a Whole Foods here in Charleston, WV. I try to shop at these store whenever I visit a city where they are found.

Edward Knapton says …

In summary Organic agriculture is great but sustainable agriculture probably would use less inputs from our planet. People that use organic food need to know pesticides can be used on it. They also need to know about the greater possibility of alpha toxins from bacteria and fungicides on organic food. I grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, My wife and I owned at one time the largest you pick vegetable and fruit opertion in our county. I saw all my friends and relatives dairy farms go away. Dane County now only has one you pick operation to the best of my knowledge. In about 1980 I ran a full page add in the paper to start a community sustainable operation- not one person applied. This has all changed. People are getting older. They have more money. They are getting sick and including myself are looking at food as a likely source of a longer sustainable life. I understand soil structure and nutrient avaiabilty of minerals. The sad part if the minerals are available plants whether they are raised organically or by other means have the same nutrient content. Plants like humans have a remarkable ability to take just what they need and just not absorb the rest into their bodies. This is proven by many studies. The real reason that organic agriculture is so great is that it allows people to stay on the farm and use inputs that minimize the damage to our planet. You may disagree with this but when I was growing up we were not organic but we were practicing sustainable agriculture. I believe the best use of the resources of this planet are when we can use farming practices that enhace soil structure and give good yeilds to the crops. This means we rotate crops, this means we use animal manure when we can or use cover crops, it also means that we use some fertilizer. I am sorry but weather you believe it or not the plant does not know the difference between phosphorus in manure or from a bag of fertilizer. I do have one concern that is seldom brought up. Pesticides as defined by the USDA are used in organic agriculture. They just can only use the ones approved. Some are significantly more toxic to the enviroment than sythetic pesticides. Since in general significantly less pesticides are used in organic agriculture this leads to greater possibilites of alpha toxins on the leaves and fruit caused by bacteria and fungus. Alpha Toxins are extremely toxic and are cancer causing agents also. People that eat organic fruits and vegetable should also know this. In summary Organic agriculture is great but sustainable agriculture probably would use less inputs from our planet. People that use organic food need to know pesticides can be used on it. They also need to know about the greater possibility of alpha toxins from bacteria and fungicides. Edward Knapton

Tim Donahue says …

Dear John and Whole Foods: THANK you for leading the charge in your Animal Compassionate Standards for meat and dairy animals. We hope to see all grocers adopting this standard. As lacto-ovo vegetarians we are in search of compassionate sources of dairy - which are HARD to locate locally. You guys are the champions of progressive grocery retail - you deserve a Peace Prize or something for your Walk the Walk attitude and your commitment to bringing better food choices to shoppers with a conscience. Grocers with integrity - I love to know my grocer is concerned with things that we should all be concerned with and is taking steps to do what's right. Slavery went away, and some day so will old style factory farming. They are both just plain wrong, and companies like yours, with thinking excutives who have hearts and minds that are both switched to "on" simultaneously :-) are truly commendable members of corporate society. Please speed your work on the Compassionate Standards for meat and dairy products in particular so that consumers wishing to do no harm can purchase food without fear of atrocity towards living animals. We eagerly await your progress and hope you can lead the way toward converting all grocers to adopt Compassion Standards. Thank you thank you thank you. Tim Donahue

kimi says …

I think this article misses the point Mr. Pollan is making, that the free trade model of agricultural exports is not sustainable---not only in the vast monocropping and consolidation of wealth involved in the countries we import from, but also in the IMMENSE use of fossil fuels involved in the process--- pesticides, fertilizers, packaging, transport---all require petroleum. I personally believe that energy crisis we are facing will allow people to recognize the diversity (or at least what is left) in our local biomes and the importance of self-sustaining food systems. What happens when the grocery trucks stop shipping out? that is the point.

Sherri A. Fischer says …

I found this letter also well written, it is obvious that the individual writing has been well prepared for avoiding the issue. If someone cannot understand that certain fruits or vegtables can only be grown at a certain time of year, in certain areas, I find it hard to believe that they are going to be interested in where the foods they eat are coming from. What about Whole Foods being involved in changing the laws for organic foods? Did they rally together with Wal-mart to lower standards or not?

Rick Birken says …

This is a response to Edward Knapton. We all have nostalgia for our upbringing and things we did in life in earlier years, but that doesn't make what we did all that great objectively. Dairy farms are only profitable because they are supported by the federal government. Until the 1920's when the government began what is now the marketing boards that do all those cute milk commercials, humans didn't drink much milk, and when they did it wasn't cow's milk. Cow's milk isn't human food; in fact, dairy isn't food for any adult mammal. In most parts of the world, people don't drink much milk at all, and if they do it's generally goat's milk or sheep's milk because the biology of those animals is at least more similar to that of humans. Cows have a genuinely wierd digestive system, and consequently their milk isn't conducive to human nutrition. That's why, for all the milk Americans grow up drinking, we still get high levels of osteoporosis, higher than in countries where people don't eat dairy products at all. Without government support, there would be no dairy industry, and what would exist would be for personal consumption. The exception would be for cultured products, such as yogurt or kefir or some cheeses, which is the form of dairy that is consumed in most of the world, but even then it is better if it isn't made from cow's milk. Nostalgia is the only reason to have a vibrant dairy industry; it only harms human health. As to sustainability, no farm that isn't organic can be sustainable. That isn't to say all organic farms are sustainable; it is to say that pesticide and chemical fertilizer farming destroy the top soil over time, which has happened to most of the farmland in America. That development requires still more chemical applications unless at some point the harmful cycle is stopped and the soil is replenished. That's why only non-chemical farming can be sustainable, because if you don't have healthy soil you haven't sustained anything. It is also not true that the plant doesn't know the difference where it's nutrients are coming from. Kirlian photography has clearly shown the difference in the electrical fields around plants grown organically and those grown chemically. Clearly, the plants have reacted differently. And the soil also knows the difference, as noted above. It is also true that pests are more virulent on pesticide farms than on organic farms (at least once the organic farmer has figured out how to function in the particular climate conditions), so again, plants clearly are making themselves more or less vulnerable to insects as a reaction. As to the toxin you mentioned, I think, or I guess, you mean aflatoxin, not alpha toxin. Aflatoxin does exist, but it exists on conventional food as well as organic. It's been around forever and so have people, so its dangers, while real, are obviously not disastrous. The worst crops for this toxin are peanuts and corn, but it's on many others as well. But again, it's just as prevalent on conventional as organic crops. The only way to deal with it is through rigorous inspection of food, but we're unlikely to ever see that in this country, especially with people like Mr. Mackey opposing government programs and taxes to pay for them. You also speak of mineral availability, but like all conventional farmers you forget that there are more minerals than just nitrogen and phosphorus. There are all those pesky trace minerals that disappear when too much intense application of just a couple of major minerals outcompete them. Without this proper mineral balance, food is less healthy, pests are worse, the soil suffers. It's like the problem with milk drinking--assuming a person can digest it, which is unlikely, milk is way over represented in calcium and underrepresented in magnesium and potassium. When the electrolytes are out of balance the bone withers just as much as if there's no calcium at all. The same with over application of just a few minerals--it isn't the same as a proper balance of all nutrients, including micronutrients. Organic farmers don't just use manure, they also use seaweed and other substances to try and better manage this balance, something chemical fertilizers don't do. If they did, the soil wouldn't be so depleted, and the vast number of Americans who test low for these micronutrients wouldn't test so low for them. We'd be a much healthier people. As to the vegetarians out there, without animals, there is no manure for fertilizer, and plants have no less right to live than animals. Just because animals look more like people doesn't mean plants aren't suffering just as much when we shorten their lives to eat them, or when we force them to grow in nice neat rows instead of freely as they do if given the choice. Life is life, all life is equally precious. I don't know why the world is designed so that life has to be consumed to support other life and I don't like it, but it is the way things are. Furthermore, if people stop needing animals for food, well, we see what people do to things they no longer need. Grazing animals are nearly extinct now, the only ones still living are the ones we need and the few environmentalists have been able to save. Cows aren't a real animal, they're a human creation, but they'll go the way of the buffalo if people stop eating them. Same with the pig and the goat, etc. It might not be so bad for animals in the long run that humans choose to eat some of them, as long as we learn to take better care of them while they're alive. Rick Birken

Michael Benjamin says …

I think the Pollan book made me a more sophisticated consumer of the Whole Foods meat department. Before reading the book, I couldn't have told you the difference between pasture-fed and grain-fed beef. After reading the book, I'm happy to say I ate beef for the first time in five years tonight, bought from the only place to buy pasture-raised organic beef in the San Fernando Valley, Whole Foods. The organic beef pastures are in Northern California, too far for me to drive to. New Zealand's pretty far away, though. Maybe some of your Southern California customers would prefer you sourcing their pasture-raised beef from California? I agree with Pollan, that there are still some "rough edges" at my local Whole Foods. The asparagus there is exclusively from Peru, and it's the same stuff you find at Gelson's and Bristol Farms (I went to both today). So, yes, corners are cut. They could source the local stuff, which I have eaten from the Encino Farmer's Market this week, but apparently the market dictates that they use Peru. Maybe local suppliers are more preferred in some markets than others. I don't feel like there is a person at my market I can speak with about these things. I can tell you, though, that there is far more organic produce in the Whole Foods than at Gelson's or Bristol Farms, and that's a step in the right direction. Ideally, we would have complete transparency on our supplier sources at Whole Foods. Each store would have a list of exactly which farm each fresh item came from. In an ideal world, there would be a phone number to the farmer directly, so if there was ever a question, one could just pick up the telephone. I agree with others that chicken is an issue in your store. I won't eat "Rocky" or "Rosie" after the Pollan profile, but that's all you seem to stock. Maybe it's time to move on to a more sustainable product. I notice your letter does not respond to Pollan's criticism of Rosie in his book. Keep fighting the good fight, Mr. Mackey. Clean up the chicken and remember to source close to Southern California, not just the Northeast and Texas. Regards from California, Michael Benjamin, M.D.

Holly Harnsongkram says …

As a convert to Whole Foods and fresh-air markets, I am becoming more and more aware of the garbage that has become the majority of what is sold in typical grocery stores. On the rare occasion that I do venture into an Albertson's, Ralph's, Vons, or other similar mega-store, I am disgusted by the rows of processed plastic foods (the cereal ailse alone will turn one off to eating) and am pleased that Whole Foods exists. My parents live in Virginia and have also started shopping at Whole Foods in their area. My dad's poor health and the fact that we are all getting older has really given us reason to give Whole Foods and similar natural food markets a closer look and the opportunity to win us as loyal customers. Perhaps not every item they carry was grown or made in the very best possible process, but we feel that these stores offer the best that is available to the average consumer. And, we believe that the market will apply enough pressure to ensure that they always work toward improvement. Thanks very much to all natural food stores and natural food growers. We owe you our extended lives! - Holly Harnsongkram, Santa Monica, CA

Suzee Kaanoi says …

I just finished reading Pollan's book and subsequently John Mackay's response letter. Better late.... Our first WFM opened here in Orlando about 7 years ago. I have been a customer from day one. As a local, vegetarian chef/caterer, they are the most consistently reliable source of organic produce and natural foods. The team members are, for the most part, very knowledgeable (bespeaking comprehensive training), cheerful and helpful. In the past few years, I've become partially disabled and require a lot of assistance in shopping. They go way beyond the limits of their "job description" to take a list over the phone, and bring the order out to the car. To me, this kind of caring attitude comes from the top down. I totally support WFM. They may not be perfect, but they are leading the way toward that end in the area of national organic and natural food distribution. They are a shining example of commited and compassionate treatment of farm animals (altho, as a vegan, I wish that wasn't necessary). God bless 'em all.

Christine says …

Why don't we stop farming other living things for our use? WFM should lead this movement by not selling any meat or animal byproducts. What a chance you'd be taking! Be the first one, lose money, and then the consumers can really believe that you're running a business for the greater good.

David Boyce says …

Just a few tidbits from your competition, Draeger's Supermarket, a local chain of maybe four or five stores: Organic navel oranges: 99 cents/lb Organic Braeburn apples: $1.39/lb Organi garnet yams: 99 cents/lb These organic bargains, loss leaders I think they're called, bring me into Draeger's and keep me coming back because I like to eat well, I deserve to eat well -- as do all human beings -- but I can't always afford to eat well, and that is a problem, isn't it? Whole Foods, in my experience, has never used a loss leader. I can't remember when I've seen any produce there for less than $1 a pound. As more bargains at Draeger's come up, I'll let you know about them. I now make a habit of taking their colorful weekly flyer with its low prices with me when I go to Whole Foods.

Mark says …

Great that there are so many people still out there who are only just learning about WFM and organic foods generally! Keep up the education process! But keep in mind that supporting and expanding the organic food industry should only be one aspect of the sustainability mantra that drives Mr. Mackey's company. What's else is there? Reduce energy through reducing packaging and shipping costs by buying more local products. This can be done by: -Massive expansion of the bulk selection -Not selling food items shipped from halfway around the world that are available locally (Garlic shipped from China??!!) -Not stocking products that use non-recyclable packaging Whole Foods' ascendancy is an indicator that the country is more ready than ever to accept what WFM has to offer. It also indicates that the company is in a position of credibility now like never before, and able to use that clout to influence the food, shipping, and packaging industries in an ecologically sustainable and socially positive way. All that lacks is the will to go the extra mile. Keep up the great work!

Jenny says …

Has anyone read the "Food Politics" special report and "Good Food?" editorial in the The Economist (The Economist, Dec 9-15)? The articles make some provocative claims that question the value of organic, local, and fairly-traded food as well as the value of the shopping cart as a political tool. I applaud The Economist for addressing the important question of food politics and for its hopeful conclusion that "there is an enormous appetite for change" but I have two serious qualms with the reporting: first, some of the claims about the environmental impacts of organic, local, and fair trade food seem misguided and second, it seems to understate the role of the business community. Yes, governments need to do more to make meaningful changes to the global food system and yes, consumers should not be so naïve as to think they can replace conventional politics with their shopping cart. Yet, business leaders are also an integral part of the dynamic. Despite its flaws, The Economist's report highlights the need for better understanding of food policy issues. And tantamount to knowledge is action. Mr. Mackey and Mr. Pollan have proven themselves to be scrupulous researchers, generous teachers, and courageous implementers. My call to action for myself and contributors to this discussion is this: keep learning and thinking critically about these issues and finding ways to support your values, be it through conventional politics, business practices, or your shopping cart --- or better yet, all three. Jenny Whole Foods Market -Rockville, MD

john becks land says …

Fortunately your web site affords you the forum to reply to the innacurrate criticism in a detailed manner, no doubt he cashed in on the gift certificate! Best of all to you in your endeavors and future.

Jillian Brown says …

I had never heard of Whole Foods until I was in San Francisco. After shopping at Trader Joe's and being disappointed so many times, I decided to go to the nice place I had seen on the corner of 7th(?). When I entered, I couldn't believe my eyes. Finally, I had found one store that had everything I needed. No more would I need to go to 5 different stores to get what I needed. I moved back east (to Vermont) and I miss Whole Foods. Please come to Vermont. The health conscience are generating in mass amounts. I believe Whole Foods would do very well in a high density population such as Burlington or Shelburne. Think about it and give an ol' foody something to look forward to.

Steve Wheelock says …

At this writing, I'm early in the reading of Pollan's book. I haven't yet reached his discussion of Whole Foods, and I'm glad I found this response before reading it and getting all upset and disappointed. You may take the obvious conclusion from the fact that one of the first places I thought of to look for material after reading about CAFOs was Whole Foods. Your response to Pollan was an unexpected bonus, addressing not only the CAFO issue, but also the issues--the reality--of locality and seasonality of supply. I live in Northern Virginia, and am addressing these issues personally here through Whole Foods and other outlets; my tribe in Wisconsin is looking at those issues now as well, through members (including my cousin and his family) trying to "eat locally" and through our Oneida Nation Farms and Tsyunhehkwa (Life Sustenance; I hope they'll excuse my spelling), our tribal agricultural and food supply operations.

Bee says …

I have not read Mr. Pollans book. I take care to eat truly organic and sustainable food as much as possible, I avoid ingesting GMO's, cloned animals, and anything produced with prophylactic use of herbicides, pesticides, certain chemicals, and antibiotics, as well as cruel factory farming practices. I produce my own organic foods and have subscribed to others CSA's and so on. At first I thought Whole Foods to appear to be a great resource, however, upon closer examination I see that it too is simply a corporate bureaucracy and admittedly while significantly better than most (Kudos to you for that) it too falls far short of not only what I desire to see, but it's own hype and the dogma it claims to follow. The last paragraph of the "Local Procurement" section, and the entire Whole Food Mantra of "we offer 'Local Foods' does not square with me and my experiences. To wit: At the Vienna, Virginia Whole Foods store I recently spoke with a person staffing the bakery. When I inquired about actual rye bread* (e.g made with rye flour not wheat flour or what have you), I found the so-called rye breads, so-called "Jewish Rye", "Pumpernickel Rye", etc. have (surprise surprise) WHEAT flour as the first ingredient, hence, they are not only not made of all rye, rye flour is NOT even the majority of the variety of flour used to make them! Talk about false labeling!) He first informed me that all the stores have the same bread. I suggested that they add actual Rye Bread to the varieties they bake at that local store. It what I grew up with, is presently hard to find in the DC metro area, and many folks of Eastern European ancestry that I know miss the old country rye bread that was once common in the old neighborhoods of NYC suburbs. Alas those neighborhood bakeries have been dwindling out of operation over time. He informed me that none of the bread sold was baked on site. So I asked "where is it baked?" Assuming another store in the area or a regional bakery serving area stores. He replied "Boston". "Boston, Virginia?” I asked. (Mind you it is the Vienna, VA location and there exists a place named Boston, VA but I was unaware of any whole foods stores anywhere there in Culpepper County). "No, Boston-Boston... you know Boston Massachusetts - It's baked there and shipped here." "So this 'Local Bread' is shipped all the way from Beantown?" "Yes, I guess so", he laughed as he shrugged his shoulders. Local food? Shear and utter nonsense. Needless to say, I learned another lesson about false labeling, and advertising ethics, and Whole Foods that day. (It was by no means the first or the last but I think a good example of why the buyer must be ever vigilant. Shame on you! If any store wants to really be a leader then stick to true and complete labeling and advertising. Tell us voluntarily exactly: WHAT it is (RYE Bread is made from RYE flour, if it isn't don't call it "RYE bread" call it RYE FLOUR FLAVORED WHEAT BREAD) for produce tell us if it is colored, or coated with wax, etc. and what was used. WHERE each item being sold originates from (e.g. is grown, assembled, baked, etc.) WHO grew or created it (such and such farm) for heavens sake if my underwear can be stamped with the name and operator number of the worker that sewed it, why can't my bread loaf tell me WHO made it (if not the baker himself, the bakery) and WHEN it was made? HOW it was grown whether it is CONVENTIONALly or ORGANICally produced or raised, WHETHER PESTICIDES, HERBICIDES, ANTIBIOTICS or other agents were employed IF it is affected by GMO technology (e.g. contains GMO's, or is, or potentially CAN BE exposed to them. Corn or canola (rape seed) for instance, might be planted as organic seed but GMO pollen can easily contaminate it via the wind. If nothing else tell us if it was tested, and the results. Think of people allergic to seafood that don't want fish genes in our apples or whatnot. CLONING - was it or its parents cloned, or not. IF it is a NEW SUBSTANCE such as the Fusarium venenatum mold that the product Quorn is comprised of despite being labeled "product of mushroom origin". Provide info on all sides of the story. Honesty will earn one many long-term customers. In fact every thing that is potentially an allergen should be labeled as such. Strawberries, Fusarium mold (Brand name Quorn), nuts, kiwi's, seafood, whatever. And the innovation to really adopt is a logically organized, large type, easy to read, color-coded standard label prominently included on each item's packaging (save for loose produce) where it should be on the signage so that one can easily compare two or more items. Much like labels that provide per unit costs of items make it easy for one to compare two similar items in different sized packages. I am sure I forgot other things but the point should be clear enough. Regards, -Bee * Bread baked from Rye flour is significantly different in taste than that made with wheat flour or a mixture, and contains less gluten - albeit is not entirely gluten free.

cgmania says …

John, thanks for the letter. It's nice to have some facts and figures on our sources. As a yang New Yorker, I was most amused by the narrow definition of "local" that is adhered to in the tri-state region.

Jay says …

John, Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best and I have two basic suggestions that I believe could provide the foundation for continued success at Whole Foods in the face of increasing competition. 1. Create "Whole Food Organics" and have your criteria always more stringent then what is allowable elsewhere (your core customers understand that the definition of Organics is under pressure to relax as the huge food processors go organic) Customers will be willing to pay a premium for a more pure organic product than those appearing on competitors sheves everywere. You can keep your margins if you distiguish your products, if not, your margins will be ruthlessly squeezed. 2. Re-focus on the Whole Food shopping experiance. As Whole Foods has matured your associates have become complacent and interaction with store associates lacks the passion it once had. In my view you need to get back to basics. Whole Foods' products need to be distinguished (they are becoming blurred by competition) from products elsewhere and the shopping experiance needs to be as FUN as it used to be! I hope these comments have some value to you. All the best for a great 2007 and beyond!!! Cheers, Jay

Joel says …

Dear John- Thanks for your incredibly articulate contextualization of "industrial organic" debate using Whole Foods as an example of how to transcend it. I've been interested in local, organic and sustainable food for quite some time now having worked on and researched a whole variety of small, medium and large produce operations. For the longest time, I couldn't get over this idea that everything just has to be as local as possible or it was a sin against God. I imagined a pre-modern agrarian scene with small farms, daily community markets and even butter-churners and bonnets as the only way to save ourselves from the evils of post-WWII industrialization of the food (and every other) system. It wasn't until I found models like Spiral Dynamics that you describe in another of your blog entries that I finally started to see the real evolutionary nature of our current situation. From this perspective I could see all of the developments in agriculture, including my own interest in organics and sustainability as being part of a developmental process moving from simpler more narrow-minded perspectives to more complex and inclusive ones. I started to see how limiting it is to think we need to go back to some romantic idea of the way things used to be and toss out all of the incredible benefits of industrialization and capitalization. We can't and we won't. Since then, I've gradually grown to absolutely love Whole Foods, it's mission and vision. Instead of seeing your company as simply "Big Organic", "Corporate" or some other monolithic category of otherness, I've taken the time to hear your views and get familiar with the subtleties of your business and mission. Whole Foods is truly a Trojan Horse for the evolution of food consciousness and admire your desire to keep moving forward. Here's to the death of dogmatic, us-against-them, black-and-white thinking! Here's to creating a positive future in which paradoxes are miraculously transcended and making a real, effective change is more important that being "greener than thou!" Joel

Leslie says …

Hello John, Thanks for your thoughtful and informative letter to Michael Pollan. I would love to have you both over for dinner sometime---I think you're both fantastic! Anyway, my concern is how we can get fresh healthy food to those people who can't afford it? I realize you addressed this issue in your blog in the section about 365 Organic....but what about a Whole Foods "outlet" store in low-income neighborhoods? I would love to see some kind of "non-profit store"---not quite a food bank. Something new and different---and I want to run it!! Thanks, Leslie

david says …

the prices whole foods charge are way too high espically for the elderly and those on a fixed income. how can i afford it i cant. they need to lower there prices across the board but wont because whole foods is only for people who have alot of money.

says …

Readers of this blog may be interested to attend or listen to the live webcast of this event: The Past, Present, and Future of Food A talk by John Mackey, co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods Market, followed by a conversation with Michael Pollan, Knight Professor of Journalism and author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma." Tuesday, February 27, 2007 7:00–9:00 p.m. Zellerbach Hall Tickets $10.00 for General Admission; Free for Cal Students with ID Zellerbach Ticket Office 510.642.9988 Live Webcast through Berkeley at: http://webcast.berkeley.edu/events.php

Joel says …

How about offering screens in store for webcams of live conditions on farms supplying Whole Foods? This would lead to the suppliers policing themselves; real-time images of miserable, factory farm animals would drive consumers to shop more responsibly. Joel Johnson

Mary Elizabeth Leary says …

Dear John, Thanks for all the information presented in reply to Michael Pollen. Your work is fascinating. I have been shopping at Whole Foods (previously Bread and Circus for us) for twenty years. I have learned to shop there using your brands, doing sale products, and avoiding meat and high-priced foods without breaking the budget. I do buy your fish and would not eat fish from anywhere else. Let me add that I have worked as a registered nurse for more that forty years and continually ask "How do people get so sick?" I have studied nutrition fervently and have come to understand the effect of our diet on our health. I believe that Whole Foods in it's philosophy, idealism, and non-comprising approach to providing healthful foods and, by it's example, is doing more for the health of the nation than any other endeavor that I know of including some pharmaceutical companies. I admire you very much. Sincerely, Mary Elizabeth Leary

Jim Auerbach says …

Interesting observations from all on this subject. People that respond here show a genuine concern for our existence and environment or they wouldn’t spend the time here, I hope that becomes contagious. Constructive criticism leads to forward thinking, interaction and progress that smart leaders cherish and is a core value of real teamwork. WFs transparency stimulates dialog on many critical issues that have been swept under the corporate carpet for years. As humans we are all in this together and the future of the planet and our very existence depends on how quickly this is realized. You are either part of the problem or part of the solution. WFs has made their position very clear.

Victoria Charkut says …

Mr. Mackey! I've never valued Whole Foods before today. I have briefly visited your stores in Manhattan but never gone out of my way to shop there. I will now. (And this from a hardcore Fairway shopper.) Your presence and ideas and articulation were absolutely wonderful at the Berkeley debate which I've just finished watching. You've made me aware of how lazy I've been in trying to make the switch to eating the right kind of food. I only wish you could tell us how to make the suffering of animals stop ... immediately. (isn't that a funny idea) As you said, we are in denial. I will no longer be. Thank you so much. You are an angel. Vic C.

Logan says …

This was a very concise response, and i am pleased to hear first-hand your dedication to maintaning your image as the world leader and innovator in humane farming. I wonder, did Mr. Pollan have any sort of rebuttal to this letter, especially after your meeting?

Claire Kellerman says …

Heart warming, evolutionary, brilliant, clear, appreciated, timely. Thank you John for sharing your direct and detailed account of the reality you know too well, that Michael Pollan did not inquire about WF as you would have liked. I had a tear of joy in my eye reading your words and feeling your genuine caring for the transformation of our standards to a paradigm of compassion for our fellow living beings. What you have realized already is incredible, Thank you for all your efforts and integrity. After 28 years of eating organic foods, I am a walking example, at 42, of a vibrant, bright and joyful person. I am saddened by the obvious effects and dulling, the devastation and destruction plaguing those who are not yet aware or taking advantage of what is available. For 17 years, I have traveled the world as a writer, and teaching permaculture and Earth Architecture while also learning all I can that contributes to peace on earth, within and without. Thank you for creating a path and a place to fully experience and embrace healthier choices. The complications that pass for life in the modern world are all being found out on an increasingly wider and wider scale. I write about and demonstrate the benefits of shopping only at health food stores. On a recent round-the-world freelance writing/photography job, I enjoyed health foods stores in Australia, New Zealand, Italy, & London. They all offered a special warm, human, connected feeling. When I found myself in Whole Foods NYC, I was amazed!! What a work of art. I was awestruck, a tad giddy, that is is like Disneyland. They say Disneyland is the "Happiest Place on Earth," because they do not yet admit that sugar, toxic infrastructure and waste does not "happy" make, but I know WHOLE FOODS is one of the happiest places on earth. What is depression but a symptom of eating toxic food, inspired by the behavior of other people eating toxic food? Eating at Whole Foods is life changing, life-giving, and life enhancing on every level. Thank you for caring as you do, for taking the actions you have, and for sharing your views with us. I applaude you and will be sharing my appreciation far and wide, as is my pleasure bringing clarity to what inspires peace. Thank you for contributing to my happiness in ever expanding ways. Well done!! Claire of KLARITY.org Maui, Hawaii & Santa Barbara & Los Angeles, California

vivian norris de montaigu says …

I had the pleasure to meet and spend some time talking to John Mackey in Oslo during the Nobel Peace Prize events. Mr. Mackey came to help celebrate Muhammad Yunus and Grameen's work promoting microcredit and lending to the poor. I deeply appreciate Mr Mackey's personal and financial commitment to supporting producers and suppliers of Whole Foods via microcredit and social entrepreurship. Thank you and we look forward to your first Whole Foods store opening in Europe soon!

Doug Moser says …

Mr. Mackey: I enjoyed your comments and the time that you must have taken to reply to Mr.Pollan's "The Ominvores Dilemma". There is no doubt a lot to be learned from both accounts. However, your account is more practical from a safe food point of view. I have been involved in commercial agriculture for over 30 years, primarily producing grains and legume products. We raised our family on fresh produce, eggs, and our own farm grown beef; one of the benefits of production agriculture. We still budgeted $250.00 a month for grocery store purchases. I tell my children today, to allocate a small amount more of their disposable income for organic food for their children; that we made a mistake in our lifetime. Unfortunately, as with your company, the business world demands a profit for "sustainability". I'm sorry, it's just a fact of life today. There has been tremendous economic challenges for the past 50 years in agriculture. Consequently, the quaint small "family farms" have become a rarity as they sell out to larger farming operations and urban sprawl because of economics. Believe me, production is a rewarding experience and, generally speaking, farm families would continue to farm if it were profitable. It's sad, but true. In the late 1700's (Thomas Jefferson's day)over 85% of the U.S. families primary source of income came from the farm. Today, it is less than 2%. As with any industry, the farming community has had its challenges. Now we in commercial production have boxed ourselves into a corner since the advent of man-made chemicals for agricultural use. It's been sold to us as a profitability solution and we've whole-heartedly accepted it. We in U.S. agriculture have resorted to pesticides and commercial fertilzers since post WWII. In recent years, with the help and leadership of companies such as yours, the agricultural production community, has finally come to the realization that artificial man-made chemical products (practically all petroleum based) are harmful to man and to the environment. But there are huge challenges lying ahead. Organic production is very difficult for growers economically speaking; but it is the only truly safe way to produce food. In many cases, huge chemical corporations are the money behind "sustainable agriculture". We in production agriculture are lobbied, wined and dined all winter long by those very large oil-based corporations. On a global basis, they tell use "to move to "sustainable agriculture" such as riparian buffers, grass waterways, no-till farming; that it's the new answer for practicality and most importantly, that it appeals to the consumer" and ultimate profitability. Did you know that: on a global basis agricultural practices such as but not limited to, no-till, grass waterways, riparian buffers all use 5X the harmful pesticides as simply cultivated land. That: we have common chemical products offered at our disposal that will kill every pest in a field of wheat using only .02 of an ounce per acre! (Think if I trip on the way to the tank with a bottle full of that; and you get the loaf of bread that grain comes from.) That harmful product all trickles into our streams and rivers, ultimately the ocean. Think about it - it is written that: civilization has cultivated for pest (weeds & insects)control for the past 15,000 years and we've used chemicals for pest control the past 60 years. If I'm not mistaken, that's about profit driven sustainability, not safe food. I maintain (and I'm not very popular within the commercial agricultural community) that we have the technology today to develop truly safe food without the use of harmful chemicals. The large petroleum based chemical manufacturers, many of which are some of the largest companies in the world, are launching agressive enticements for farmers to convert to "no-till" methods know full well that chemical usage on that land will increase. "SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE" although well intended is a mis-nomer with consumers, and has become an endearing term that is being capitalized on. Agriculture is show-cased by companies such as Whole Foods and I might add that their leadership is being focused in the right direction; sorting through mis-nomers and harmful pracitices to work together to create "safe food". Safe food and the its challenges can be "sustainable". Mr. Mackey and to the Whole Foods team, thank you again for a job well done, while together, we have a lot more to do. Lets do it. Sincerely, Douglas Moser Genesee, Idaho USA

Sharry says …

Thanks for taking time to more fully explain the role of Whole Foods in the developing debate about what we should be eating. When I visit my daughter in Boston, I love shopping at Whole Foods. I especially appreciate how you have gotten on board with compassionate treatment of animals.

Jimmy Johnson says …

John: With all the food contamination problems (especially those coming from China) I think it would be a marketing coup if you posted in all your markets the country of origin of all meats, fish, poultry, vegetables, grain products (ingredients), etc. This labeling would encourage people to purchase your products with peace of mind. Your competition would be forced to follow your lead or lose business.

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