Whole Story

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FOOD, Inc. is Hungry For Change

By Rachael Gruver, June 10, 2009  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Rachael Gruver
Rachael is part of our team dedicated to answering emails, letters and phone calls from our customers. Food, Inc.When films like FOOD, Inc. (in select theaters on June 12th) open, people always contact us with questions about how we do things at Whole Foods Market. Sometimes the questions come from people who are our long-time, loyal shoppers and sometimes they come from those who are brand new to us and want to learn more. Some of my teammates and I checked out an advance screening of FOOD, Inc. so we could get a head start on answering the possible questions coming our way. Check out a trailer of the film:
FOOD, Inc. takes a peek into the supply chain of much of the food we eat and talks about the consequences of the way food is currently grown, raised and processed. Consequences like deadly new strains of E.coli, epidemic obesity, type II diabetes, pollution from pesticides and feedlots, and the effect this system has on people in the industry. Although this subject matter sounds both complicated and mind-numbing, FOOD, Inc. presents the information in an engaging and interesting way. I know that many of our shoppers are aware of the issues and concerns of the current industrial agriculture system and that they shop with us because we offer an alternative. I thought I would share some of the things in the film that I found compelling, and how we do things differently at Whole Foods Market. For me, one of the most jarring aspects of FOOD, Inc. was the perspective on how the patenting of Genetically Modified (GMO) seed has changed farmers and those in the agriculture business. The film looks at how Monsanto's GMO crops have affected people like seed cleaner Moe Parr, who was sued by Monsanto for something as seemingly innocuous as saving seeds. Seed cleaners go to farms at the end of every planting season and clean seeds so they can be saved and planted the following season. This seems innocent enough, but since Monsanto owns the patent to their seeds, it is illegal to save them and farmers must buy new seed from Monsanto to plant the following season. Even if a farmer did not plant a Monsanto crop, farmers are held liable if cross-pollination occurs and patented seed or plants are found in the farmer's possession. Parr was sued by Monsanto and fought them in court until he could no longer pay his legal fees. Whole Foods Market has long been concerned with the effects of GMOs, and we have partnered with the Non-GMO Project, a non-profit organization created by leaders in the organic and natural products industry to develop an industry-wide non-GMO product standard that will allow us and other manufacturers to verify that products are non-GMO. We also formulate our Exclusive Brands products to avoid GMO ingredients and we champion organic products, which by law cannot include GMO ingredients. FOOD, Inc. also looks at the cheapness of processed foods and how that is affecting the health of our country. The film follows one family through the drive thru and to the grocery store, where they opt not to buy broccoli because it is cheaper to buy a large bottle of soda. The family talks about the hundreds of dollars they spend on the father's medication for diabetes and other health issues, and they see the correlation between nutrition and health, but they feel they can feed their kids more food for less money by buying dollar menu hamburgers and soda, and so they don't see a way out. Trust me, this had me feeling sad and scratching my head. At Whole Foods Market we're committed to the idea that you don't have to spend a lot to eat well. Our stores offer value tours to teach customers how to shop on a budget, and our Whole Deal program offers money-conscious recipes, coupons and the items we feel are Sure Deals - the best deals in the store. The film also addresses meat production, and our shoppers always tell us that one of the most important issues to them is the way our meats are raised. At Whole Foods Market we are passionate about animal welfare, and we have worked hard to develop rigorous standards for our meats that have taken into account the comfort, physical safety and health of the animals. The poultry and meat we sell are raised without being administered antibiotics or added growth hormones. Through on-farm visits, we collect and verify information from all of our producers about raising and handling practices, feed, facility design, environmental conditions, employee training, medical practices and animal welfare at the farm, in transportation, and throughout processing. We offer both grain-fed meats and grass-fed alternatives. At Whole Foods Market, we are all about choices. FOOD, Inc. lifts the veil on a number of issues in the food industry, and whether you resolve to eat locally, organically, non-GMO or just healthier, we are proud to offer quality food choices that you can trust, as my Team Leader Margaret always says, "whatever your food trip!" Once you see Food, Inc. let us know what questions it brings up for you. Enter a comment below and we'll work on addressing them in future posts.
Category: Food Issues




Mim says ...
Dear Rachael, I, too, am excited to see the issues of GMOs and industrial agriculture being brought into the mainstream by an upcoming film like this. These are concerns I have had for many, many years and it is just great to think of how many millions of people are about to be exposed to what may be new concepts to them by the release of this film. I'd like to preface my 2 remarks in this comment by stating that I applaud so many of the steps Whole Foods has taken over the years to offer better choices to humans. Way to go on this. I've been a loyal Whole Foods customer for over a decade. And now, having thanked you, I want to ask Whole Foods to raise the bar. The fact that the majority of your organic produce is now coming from industrial organic monoculture from two giant California farms (Earthbound and Cal-Organic) is not something you or I can feel good about. I don't know whether Food Inc. will specifically raise these issues, but as you know, monoculture is the opposite of what nature intended and what the Organic movement intended. The potential for crop failure, food borne illness and habitat destruction is inherent in the monoculture system, and as a small organic farmer, I urge you to seek out contracts to replace industrial organic monoculture businesses with true organic farmers who are passionate about biodiversity and sustainability. In addition to this, the amount of fuel used to transport crops from California to your distant locations is incredibly wasteful when local needs can be supplied by local farmers. It's because I care about Whole Foods that I want to see you raise the bar regarding this. Finally, I would like to ask a specific GMO-related question about 2 of Whole Foods' products. We grow as much of our own food as we can, but do not yet currently have the ability to produce our own Flour Corn. Because of this, we purchase 2 organic processed corn products from Whole Foods. The first is your 365 Organic White Corn Tortilla Chips. The second is your 365 Organic Corn Tortillas. I am well-aware of Whole Foods stated no-GMO policy in organic foods, but I would like to ask specifically: 1) Where does the corn come from for these 2 products? 2) What exact testing is done to ensure that the corn used in these 2 products has not been contaminated with GMOs? Which tests? How often? Where are they performed? I would really appreciate your transparency and information on this so that I can feel confident about continued purchase of these two products for my family. Thank you for taking the time to read my comment. I hope the release of this movie will bring in a flood of important and good questions for Whole Foods. That's an outcome we'd love to see! Mim VeganReader.com
06/10/2009 4:10:18 PM CDT
paig292 says ...
@ Mim The USDA Organic Standards are scale-neutral and are applied equally to all organic producers regardless of size. We feel that regardless of size, organic is always a better choice for the environment, and is one way to avoid genetically engineered ingredients. We feel strongly about working with local producers in our communities. We choose local and regionally grown and produced products whenever possible. Purchasing locally produced products contributes to the success of local growers and food producers and the local economy. In addition to our focus on buying locally, we have budgeted $10 million for our Local Producer Loan Program http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/products/locallygrown/index.html, which gives low interest loans to local producers. That said, due to seasonal and regional variables, we are unable to rely solely on small, local producers to fill our shelves. However, if you prefer to buy locally grown or produced products, ask a team member to tell you about some of the local products and producers featured at your local store the next time you shop. By closely managing the seed, source, and processing of ingredients in our products, Whole Foods Market works diligently to avoid genetically engineered ingredients in our store brand products. Many of the raw ingredients for our products are sourced on the commodity market and may come from different sources depending on the time of manufacture. For that reason we are unable to answer specific questions about where the corn in our 365 Organic corn tortillas and white corn tortilla chips is grown. However, shopping for certified organic products provides an additional layer of assurance to those shoppers who wish to avoid GMOs. As mandated in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Organic Standards, products labeled as organic cannot be grown from genetically engineered seed or made with genetically engineered ingredients. Compliance with this policy is overseen by a USDA accredited organic certifier. We are deeply committed to raising awareness of the issue around GMOs in our food supply. Keep an eye on our blog for updates about the work we’re doing.
06/10/2009 4:11:07 PM CDT
Eric Milano says ...
As I understand it, the terms "free range" and "grass-fed" are not well regulated. I wonder what sort of guarantees WF can give its customers that its meats are what they say they are. I know that free range can often mean nearly identical conditions to your typical factory farm, and that all cows are initially grass fed, and so you can legally call any cow grass fed. FRESH is another movie that just came out and features Pollan and Salatin and talks about these issues. It also talks about the alternatives. After seeing FRESH I decided to become a vegan a few months ago (and it couldn't be easier with a WF across the street from my work :-). I care about the welfare of livestock animals, and want to see them treated as humanely as possible.
06/10/2009 4:15:15 PM CDT
paig292 says ...
@Eric Milano You are correct that there is currently no clear regulatory definition of the term “free range.” We expect suppliers who use this claim to use a reasonable definition of this term and we expect this claim to be truthful. The USDA does have guidelines for products labeled as “grass fed, ” which you can read at: http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/ams.fetchTemplateData.do?template=TemplateN&navID=GrassFedMarketingClaimStandards&rightNav1=GrassFedMarketingClaimStandards&topNav=&leftNav=GradingCertificationandVerfication&page=GrassFedMarketingClaims&resultType=&acct=lsstd
06/10/2009 4:16:50 PM CDT
Connie Kenny says ...
Things are getting pretty crazy when you can be sued for your healthy organic crop getting contaminated by Big Business's GMO pollen. Where is the logic? Who is responsible for that decision? Where was public opinion? All this for hassle for wholesome, uncontaminated food, that if we just grew it as nature intended, the least amount of energy would be expended.
06/10/2009 4:31:09 PM CDT
Vince says ...
Fantastic post.... I hope all many people come to the site to see it.... The time has come for we, the American consumer, to take back control of our food supply.... Thank you for putting the information out.
06/10/2009 4:41:48 PM CDT
Alan Fulte says ...
"At Whole Foods Market we’re committed to the idea that you don’t have to spend a lot to eat well." This comment in your review confuses me. I have found enriched flour and high fructose corn syrup in many of your products. I chose not to buy these products and bought a more expensive alternative.
06/10/2009 4:53:08 PM CDT
paig292 says ...
@Alan Fulte There are many ways to shop on a budget at Whole Foods Market. Buying fresh produce when it is in season, shopping our 365 Organic packaged products, buying family packs in our meat and seafood departments, and filling out meals with whole grains and beans, are just a few of the ways our customers have told us they save money at our stores. It is true that high fructose corn syrup and refined unbleached flour are ingredients that are acceptable in products at Whole Foods Market. However we have a number of alternatives to those ingredients in products at our stores and our 365 Everyday Value and 365 Organic products are formulated without high fructose corn syrup. You don’t have to break the bank to eat well at Whole Foods Market.
06/10/2009 4:55:19 PM CDT
Phyllis F says ...
So why are you still selling the GMO Silk soymilk?
06/10/2009 5:36:43 PM CDT
hans r herren says ...
Dear Rachel, Thanks a lot for that film...saw the trailer only but will not miss the whole film. As the co-Chair of what is now known as the IPCC of agriculture, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) which reports have just been published under the title of "Agriculture at a Crossroads" by Island Press and are available as PDF's on http://www.agassessment.org, I fully support the needed change on the way we do agriculture. In fact the IAASTD Report mentions "that Business as usual is no longer an option" and that agriculture needs to radically change course, away of the industrial model, that is killing the natural bases of food production, the soil and also very demanding in energy in from of fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and diesel. There are many alternative ways of producing the total food needed today and tomorrow, when we will be 2.5 billion more people, this contrary to what the agro-industrial lobby wants us to believe, including a number of professors that are also on the dole of the industry. Agriculture does not want to be dependent on a few input suppliers. We have to revitalize the rural areas around the world, but number one paying the farmers a fair price for the food they grow. Governments need to stop production subsidies, that have only made the rich farmers richer and driven out of business the small farmers. Same story with the green revolution, that has benefitted few and harmed many. The fact that in a world of plenty food, the hungry are in this situation because they are poor and have no access to food. Food prices have to go up, reflect the true costs, that include the externalities, now carried by the taxpayers. Cheap food as requested by the consumers, and above all the ones in the wealthy countries, must be a matter of the past. Its better to pay more and eat less but of quality. we all will be healthier, nature too. Our children will have a future too. The poor of the world will also be better of, as many being farmers will have more income and so get out of poverty. People in the cities will have to also start paying for farm products that are non food.....i.e., ecosystem services such as clean water, air a landscape to go relax and enjoy wildlife. I also very much object to the latest advertisement campaign of lies by the Monsanto and Syngentas of the world, claiming that they will save the world by promoting sustainable agriculture through genetic engineering. What they will do is line their pockets and destroy further the farming community with lawsuits, more herbicides and pesticides (because their products do and will require more of these as times goes by). They now have already monopolized the term sustainable agriculture as they did with the term "IPM" for integrated pest management, which was originally developed to curb unnecessary pesticide application, and which they then turned into another way of selling more and more pesticides again. Food products are not commodities and need to be treated with respect as we have to treat the earth. Food as a commodity is now so cheap that we are wasting some 40% of it! Change is needed...radical change at that. I am pleased that there are many new movements that are supporting the needed changes and ready to start a major opposition movement to the further industrialization and globalization of agriculture. The consumers in the end are holding the key to the change. They need to change the behavior of seeking out the cheapest food and realize that be doing so they are increasing their health bill as well as their taxes. The time to change behavior is NOW.
06/10/2009 5:54:19 PM CDT
amy says ...
What makes you think Silk soymilk is made with GMO soybeans? It's not.
06/10/2009 8:54:36 PM CDT
paig292 says ...
@ Phyllis F, @amy There seems to be some misinformation circulating about Silk’s product offerings and sourcing policies. Silk is committed to not using genetically engineered soybeans in their products. In 2008, Silk developed a Soybean Sourcing Production Program in partnership with Conservation International to reinforce their commitment to sourcing soybeans that are produced in a sustainable, socially responsible and ethical manner. To learn more about this program, please visit http://www.silksoymilk.com/SourcingProgram.aspx
06/10/2009 8:55:06 PM CDT
Shanon says ...
I am in the process of deciding whether or not to give up meat and one of my main concerns is the oft-discussed subject of ensuring food animals are humanely raised and treated during their lifespan. My second concern, however, is one not often discussed...or at least not easily found in my research...which is the process by which these animals are killed. I do not have an issue with killing animals for food, per se, but do have an enormous issue with what I've read about the brutal treatment and processing of food animals before and during the slaughtering process. I realize that calling any type of killing "humane" is a bit of an oxymoron, but it is possible to make the death as quick and painless as possible. I understand animals used for Kosher meats are killed humanely, but I am in an area where obtaining Kosher meats is practically impossible. My question is, what -- if anything -- do you do to ensure the animals used for WF meats are killed humanely? Also, in reading your Meat Quality Standards, I noticed several omissions that raised questions: 1) Your statement on physical alterations is vague. Do you allow tail-docking for your pigs? 2) "Range-raised" might be meant to imply grass-fed, but short of a statement to that end, does not satisfy my interest on that subject. What are your animals fed and from what source(s) is the feed obtained? Finally, I'd like to second the concerns of others who've posted here re: selling of HFCS, trans-fats, and GMO-derived products in your stores. There is a competitor of WF in my area that guarantees all of its products are free of HFCS, trans-fats, and GMO-derived ingredients. While I love WF, frankly, the guarantees of this competitor make it MUCH easier to shop there than at WF. Please work towards addressing this issue so I can continue to shop at your stores.
06/10/2009 9:18:09 PM CDT
paig292 says ...
@Shanon Our meat producers are required to complete annual third party audits of their slaughter facilities that monitor animal welfare according to a rating system developed by world renowned animal welfare and facility design expert, Dr. Temple Grandin. These audits also include an assessment of food safety and strict compliance with the Food and Drug Administration's Good Manufacturing Practices within the plant. If you would like to learn more about Dr. Grandin, please visit: http://www.grandin.com/ At this time we only sell kosher poultry. Our slaughter standards require that all animals be stunned before slaughter. The only exception we have made to this standard at this time is for the ritual slaughter of chicken and turkey. As our product inventory varies from store to store, I would encourage you to check with your local store to inquire as to whether kosher poultry is available, or may be special ordered for you. Our standards prohibit tail docking pigs. We do not have specific requirements about feed, other than to prohibit animal by-products. We do require that cattle are on pasture or range for a minimum of 2/3 of their life. See my response @Eric Milano for more information, as there is no clear regulatory definition of the term “range raised.” We do allow High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) in products sold at Whole Foods Market. We think you’ll find that products with HFCS are more the exception than the norm as in conventional supermarkets, and you won’t find HFCS in our 365 and 365 Organic products. Hydrogenated oils are not acceptable at Whole Foods Market. We are also concerned about GMOs in the food supply and hope you’ll keep an eye on our blog for future updates on what we are doing to address this issue.
06/10/2009 9:19:38 PM CDT
Robin says ...
My opinion is that the food industry is like an onion. There are so many aspects & layers to it. Not all producers & sellers are a like--much like the variety available in the onion family. Some of them are marvelous, flavorful and beneficial...others are strong and can make you cry. I wish that more people cared about our food, but I have come to realize that even people who visit local farmers markets are completely clueless about food, how it's grown and where it comes from. The thought of 'seasons' is foreign to them....it disgusts me that at 'farmers markets' I can find shrink wrapped produce with a grocery store PLU sticker still on it...grapes from Chile sitting right next to beets, oranges, potatoes, peaches, kale, lettuces and tomatoes of all varieties all available in Chicago land the first week of June? Green house or not, the purveyors who brought these didn't grow them (well, maybe they grew some lettuce....but I'm suspect...especially after seeing the PLU stickers.) No one else seemed to be appalled, they just chatted up the 'farmer' with some useless prattle about how great their farm is doing compared to the 'organic guy' down the way. GMO products, irradiated foods, BHA in canned goods & plastics....we really need a revolution! This takes commitment but I really feel like the wake up call as to what is really happening needs to come from a large, impressive, popular voice in order to really be heard loud & clear. It's just gross. Interestingly enough, other countries refer to our food as "Frankenstein food" and demand that any foods imported from America are created without the preservatives & additives. Their guideline is that nothing that shouldn't be in the food, in order for it to still be called food, is to be in there. Why are we resigned to eat slop in this country or conversely pay premium dollars for something that we believe is healthy? Keep spreading the word! Tell your friends, tell your neighbors, tell your enemies....as long as they're the kind that would love to spread a rumor. Tell that lady who hangs out at the water cooler, somehow manages to keep her job and has all the latest dirt on everyone & everything. Give her something real to work on! Power to the people, Robin
06/11/2009 12:07:38 AM CDT
Brynne says ...
Since Shanon mentioned it, I looked at your meat policy as well. It makes no mention of the most common tortures that food animals endure: Pigs and calves routinely have their testicles torn out without anesthesia. Cattle are branded, and have their horns sliced off. Pigs and some sheep have tails chopped off. Your policy allows egg-laying hens to have their sensitive beaks cut. (And any other birds who live in quarters unnaturally close enough that they will peck each other.) Your website should boldy list the allowable procedures, and not use insulting euphemisms like "discomfort."
06/11/2009 1:05:04 AM CDT
paig292 says ...
@Brynne We appreciate your comments and concern. We are piloting some innovative new programs that will make it easier for customers concerned with the treatment of farm animals to know what they are buying. We are rolling out this program region by region over the next two years, and we hope you’ll stay tuned for future updates.
06/11/2009 1:06:54 AM CDT
Kimberly Pontius says ...
After watching the film King Corn and reading the book Omnivore's Dilemma I have become very interested in this subject. I shall look for the movie in a local theater and I thank Whole Foods for bring this to my attention. I still wish we could get a Whole Foods in Traverse City, Michigan!
06/11/2009 7:39:34 AM CDT
Elizah Leigh says ...
Over at a green social network I belong to (www.greenwala.com), this is a really hot topic. One of my fellow greenies just posted an article urging everyone to check out Food, Inc: http://tinyurl.com/nbjmrs I am definitely one of the first people in line to see this flick because in my opinion, big corporate food companies and agri-giants have done nothing to benefit our health and ecosystem -- in fact, they have done the complete opposite. Monsanto is one of the worst offenders -- their perpetual quest for profits has seemingly rendered them devoid of a conscience toward man, creature and mother earth. If anyone here wants an eye-opening perspective of what they have done, then please check out this series of video clips: http://www.greenwala.com/community/videos?q=monsanto
06/11/2009 9:02:22 AM CDT
shelle says ...
Do you really offer an alternative? I have stopped shopping at whole foods except for the products not available elsewhere since the merger. I feel the prices went up, selection went down and the bulk bins are slim. I think in the short term industrial organic is better but it does not address the serious problem of shipping our foods around the world. I, also, thought whole foods still sourced their chickens and eggs from CAFO's. I realize in the peak of production in my area whole foods offers a good selection from local farms, I have decided to buy direct when and where I can. I agree with Mim it is time to raise the bar and get back to the origins of the health food store. I want the collective buying power to mean something and make a difference!
06/11/2009 9:20:42 AM CDT
paig292 says ...
@shelle The merger of Wild Oats and Whole Foods Market has created the advantage of increased buying power, allowing us to offer lower prices to our customers in all or our stores. To give you a specific example, when our merger happened in 2007, our Rocky Mountain region was able to lower prices on 80 percent of their inventory as a result of the merger. We understand that many of our shoppers seek eggs and meat from chickens raised under more clearly defined conditions, and we encourage those shoppers to choose organic eggs. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Standards, all organic livestock are required to have access to the outdoors, shade, shelter, exercise areas, fresh air, and direct sunlight suitable to the species, the climate, and the environment. All organic producers are certified by a USDA-accredited certifying agent.
06/11/2009 9:21:39 AM CDT
Andrea says ...
I was fortunate to have seen this film and a follow-up panel discussion among the filmmaker, film participants and subject experts. I mention this because the film details many disturbing facts, but rather than leave me feeling totally distressed, I heard the panel express their optimisim for the future. At the end of the film there are suggestions on screen about actions to take, but I do feel it is a challenge to get many people to take the necessary steps. Even when shopping at WFs I continue to see most shoppers taking their purchases in store supplied paper bags. If bringing a few re-usable bags to the store is not a common practice, how do you motivate a sizeable number of people to pay more or do without products that are abusive in some manner?
06/11/2009 10:18:21 AM CDT
Louise Ross says ...
I LOVE to read information like this -- about Whole Foods sourcing policies. Such transparency is the very reason I trust WFs implicitly. Having grown up in rural Australia where we sourced our food locally, i.e. from our beef farm, our neighbor's farm and from our own garden (and the local bakery & ice-cream parlor :), I was horrified by the quality of supermarket food when I came to Boulder CO almost 22 years ago. Then Whole Foods came to town. I hadn't seen a market like it since my days working as a chef in Melbourne, Australia, and then living and chef'ing in London and France. Because of my commitment to, and love of, cooking with and consuming whole foods, I'm a huge fan of Whole Foods Market, hence my dedication as WFs official, Unofficial recession-strategy blogger -- it's my mission to teach people how to eat well for less shopping at WFs.
06/11/2009 11:19:55 AM CDT
Mike E. Perez says ...
This is the kind of film and information I'd love to get out to the people of the poorer areas of the country. I live in Dallas now, and try to eat healthy home-cooked meals, but when I lived in my hometown of Harlingen, Texas, the situation was bleak. At 29, I'm definitely more fit than I was at 19. The area is poverty stricken, and both diabetes and cancer (thanks to genetics and environment) are huge problems. Yet, the region doesn't have a single high-profile organic grocer. There are no Whole Foods markets, there isn't even an HEB Central Market (and HEB is the top grocer all over Deep South Texas). There isn't even an independent theater to show a limited released film like "Food, Inc." Yet there are dozens of McDonalds and other burger joints -- not to mention pizza places, fried chicken, and Mexican food restaurants. The area is poor and relatively uneducated compared to the rest of the country, and the people are suffering. It's great that Whole Foods and films like "Food, Inc." are doing their part to bring the benefits of healthy eating to America, but what good is doing for those at the highest risk?
06/11/2009 11:41:51 AM CDT
paig292 says ...
@Mike E. Perez We understand that problems like obesity don’t discriminate, which is why we align ourselves with community organizations that reach well beyond the immediate communities where we have stores. For example, we work with Marathon Kids , a free program that teaches kids in grades K-5 daily exercise and good nutrition.
06/11/2009 11:44:01 AM CDT