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USDA Disappoints: No Regulations on GE Alfalfa

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

 

217 Comments

Comments

paig292 says ...
WHOLE FOODS MARKET RESPONDS TO YOUR CONCERNS: Thank you for being passionate about genetically engineered (GE or GMO) crops and for expressing your concern about the availability of non-GMO foods. We are very passionate about this too and are extremely upset that our position has been distorted out there. Don’t be fooled by the OCA (Organic Consumers Association) as it often twists the truth, which confuses consumers. This time, OCA is misleading you by implying that we have “surrendered” to Monsanto and “cut a deal” for co-existence and that we’ll receive “compensation.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Whole Foods Market, along with the National Cooperative Grocers Association, the National Organic Coalition, the Organic Trade Association, Organic Valley, Stonyfield Farms, United Natural Foods and many others in the organic community, were trying to secure protections for organic farmers so biotechnology companies for the first time would be held accountable if GE crops polluted non-GE crops and would be forced to pay for the damages. (No money would ever go to us!) We were also pushing for measures to protect seed purity so that non-GE alfalfa supplies could be maintained. Unfortunately, none of those protections were approved as, to our utter disappointment, the USDA decided to completely deregulate GE alfalfa without restrictions. This means farmers will now be able to plant Roundup Ready GE alfalfa beginning as soon as this spring without having to take into consideration its potential to contaminate neighboring organic and other non-GE alfalfa fields intended to be sold in markets demanding non-genetically engineered products. This is a huge loss for organic and non-GE farmers and consumers who want to have access to non-GE foods. For the OCA to widely spread misinformation and lies about Whole Foods Market and other organic companies by saying that we are joining forces with the biotechnology industry (Monsanto) is beyond ludicrous--especially at a time when we all need to come together to support our goal of ensuring the availability of non-GE foods in the marketplace. To help clarify our overall position, we think it is helpful to see how Megan Westgate, Executive Director of the NON-GMO Project, describes the coalition efforts: "Leading up to the ruling, a broad coalition of organic organizations and companies were working around the clock in an attempt to influence the USDA’s decision. The USDA had already made it clear that alfalfa would be deregulated, but hope remained that there might be some way to soften the blow. Organic Valley, Whole Foods and Stonyfield Farm, along with many others in the organic community, were doing everything in their power to secure protections for organic farmers so that if their fields were contaminated once the GMO alfalfa was released, biotechnology companies for the first time would be held accountable for their pollution and would be forced to pay for the damages. These groups were also pushing for measures to protect seed purity so that non-GMO alfalfa supplies could be maintained. Unfathomably, these tireless organic organizations are now being criticized for their efforts. In total denial of the incontrovertible fact that the USDA was never even remotely considering a full ban on GMO alfalfa, some are suggesting that these group’s efforts to make the most of a bad situation *somehow* (though no one is very specific on how, exactly) signals corruption, and are even calling for boycotts. HOW ON EARTH is taking this out on 1200 organic family farmers going to help anything?! This is divisiveness we cannot afford." You can read the full article here: http://www.nongmoproject.org/2011/01/29/team-organic-will-never-surrender-to-monsanto-now-we-continue-the-fight-together/ Additionally, you may have seen strange accusations saying that Whole Foods Market has agreed to sell genetically engineered foods. We haven’t agreed to anything! This is another attempt to twist the facts. The reality is that no grocery store in the United States, no matter what size or type of business, can claim they are GMO-free. While we have been and will continue to be staunch supporters of non-GMO foods, we are not going to mislead our customers with an inaccurate claim (and you should question anyone who does). Here’s why: the pervasive planting of GMO crops in the U.S. and their subsequent use in our national food supply. 93% of soy, 86% of corn, 93% of cotton, and 93% of canola seed planted in the U.S. in 2010 were genetically engineered. Since these crops are commonly present in a wide variety of foods, a GMO-free store is currently not possible in the U.S. (unless the store sells only organic foods.) Since the U. S. national organic standards do not allow the use of GMO ingredients and practices in the growing or production of organic foods, choosing organic is one way consumers can avoid GMO foods. The other is through labeling, of which we are strong supporters. Here is a look at some of the other things we have done on the non-GE front over the past couple of decades: •We have advocated for mandatory labeling of GMO foods since 1992, even before they were made commercially available. •We were founding members of the Non-GMO Project, which works to ensure the sustained availability of non-GMO choices through an industry-wide product standard to create a non-GMO labeling program that can be fully substantiated. •Our 365 Everyday Value® and Whole Foods Market™ brand products are sourced to avoid GMOS, and our partnership with the Non-GMO Project will enable us to verify and label both natural and organic products. In fact, we have enrolled our store brand food products in this pioneering product verification program, which ensures the sustained availability of non-GMO choices through an industry-wide product standard. These include products that natural as well as those that are organic. •Beyond our stores, we have publicly advocated for clear labeling of GE food and shared our concerns that the USDA and FDA’s policies on GE foods are not consistent with our consumers’ expectations. We will continue to work aggressively on this issue because we believe that GMO food ingredients should be clearly labeled, and that consumers who want to avoid them should have an actionable way to do so. While the USDA’s decision will make our work more difficult, we are as committed as ever to ensuring that non-GMO food remains available and we will continue to advocate for our farmers and for our shoppers on this issue.
01/28/2011 3:59:47 PM CST
student says ...
thank you. It was very sad to see the USDA fail to be an advocate for citizens.
01/28/2011 5:24:12 PM CST
paig292 says ...
If you've read the recent letter from the OCA we highly encourage you <a href="http://www.nongmoproject.org/2011/01/29/team-organic-will-never-surrender-to-monsanto-now-we-continue-the-fight-together/" rel="nofollow">to read this as well. It's a wonderful response </a>to the USDA's decision to deregulate GE alfalfa from the Executive Director of The Non-GMO Project, a non-profit multi-stakeholder collaboration committed to preserving and building sources of non-GMO products, educating consumers, and providing verified non-GMO choices.
01/28/2011 5:30:36 PM CST
paig292 says ...
Please note: Links and excerpts from the OCA's misleading article will not be approved as they do not meet our Comment Posting Guidelines: http://blog.wholefoodsmarket.com/comment-posting-guidelines/ You are welcome to post a dissenting opinion, but it must be original. Thank you.
01/28/2011 5:30:59 PM CST
Audra says ...
I am so glad for your continued committement to whole food and making our world better. I wish we had a petition we could sign to tell the government to protect these crops!!!
01/28/2011 5:42:58 PM CST
destroying your childrens future says ...
do you realize if you moderate this info you are supporting the destruction of the purity of your children's food supply.
01/28/2011 5:47:08 PM CST
trayntp says ...
Two words...Jeffrey Immelt. Of course Obama's USDA did this.
01/28/2011 5:54:49 PM CST
Crissy Trask says ...
You were given two horrible choices, I get it. What you seem to be saying is hey, GE alfalfa has been approved, we just need to make it as unpleasant as possible. But "coexistence" shouldn't be a long-term solution. Get back in the fight.
01/28/2011 6:11:04 PM CST
Keith says ...
sellouts! we are watching you
01/28/2011 6:18:41 PM CST
bianca says ...
The usda doesn't care. They got the head corporation of Monsanto working in the usda as well as fda and epa. They're all a bunch of crooked liars trying to make their big bucks. They should be held responsible for making America fat, with their GE foods they've changed human dna.
01/28/2011 6:22:45 PM CST
Dissappointed says ...
I find two things dissapointing: 1) the lack of comments on this statement released by Whole Foods from its many consumers, unless WFM is deleting them...and 2) the fact that as a company dedicated to the organic label, you have succumbed to the USDA's decision without any fight whatsoever. You did write, "Many people have asked us why we endorsed the coexistence option rather than an outright ban on GE alfalfa. That was never an option in Washington! The USDA presented the industry with only two options..." This is a sorry excuse. Companies such as yours, with a highly dedicated consumer base, as well as being an entity that succeeds off the organic model, have a lot of say in these matters. the USDA never took Organics seriously until Wal-Mart (of all companies) decided to listen to what the market wanted and include Organic products in its stores. After that the USDA saw that the Organic movement was growing, and had to take action. You are where you are because of the customers that led you there, customers who (as far as they KNOW), are eating all organic...thats what they are PAYING FOR, and you have bowed to bad governement regulation that then results in the deception of your customers. On another note, a well-run business would reflect what its customers wanted in its actions with such news. If you truly wanted to support your clientele who even more importantly support YOU, you would stand up against the USDA and refuse any products using GMOs to be put on your shelves. This would hurt your clientele, who would then demand change, which would result in the USDA rethinking its actions. Demand dictates Supply....respect this logic and respect your customers.
01/28/2011 6:28:21 PM CST
paig292 says ...
@Dissappointed We have a moderated comment queue so you won't see your comments immediately. Also, we moderate sporadically after normal working hours and over the weekend since those are non-work times for us. Thanks.
01/28/2011 6:30:31 PM CST
Chef Debbi says ...
Even though a total ban was not an option, you still should have stood behind your no-gmo policy. How can you state that you will continue to fight for 'the protection of non-gmo foods' when you couldn't fight for it with this new policy whether or not it was not an option. A cop out if you ask me. I won't support WFM after this, sorry.
01/28/2011 6:33:12 PM CST
alexc says ...
The ruling is disappointing. The most concerning issue is we don't know what this will do to future generations.
01/28/2011 6:39:21 PM CST
Jessica says ...
It was so sad to not only hear the USDA's decision, but to see other organizations attack Whole Foods, Organic Valley and Stoneyfield Farms. It seemsa like now would be the worst time to become divided on such an issue. I have never seen anything at a Whole Foods store or publication that ever made me think they were not concerned about healthy living, which is at the heart of this issue, along with the economy of organic farmers nationwide. I will continue to support Whole Foods and these other companies, and although I feel it is partly their responsibility to protect our right to buy non-gmo foods, it is mainly the citizens job. We, the consumers, have failed.
01/28/2011 6:52:27 PM CST
Jennifer says ...
What happened to the 137 comments posted earlier on this subject?
01/28/2011 6:58:30 PM CST
paig292 says ...
@Jennifer This is a new post with new comments. Maybe you are referring to the post from 1/21 on this same topic -- all of the comments are still on that one.
01/28/2011 7:00:34 PM CST
kathleen says ...
We won't be shopping here anymore until we see major changes in your stand with GMO organizations. We have only one choice...to take a stand for our children's future.
01/28/2011 8:21:54 PM CST
Brigitte says ...
Hmn, I wonder how big the labeling will be. I can go to any other grocer and search for organic food and read every label, but with two kids in tow I have found it more convenient to go to Whole Foods and just shop. Now I may have to search and read labels at Whole Foods as well. I hope the labels are clear, on the front and hopefully in a "GE contaminated" aisle.
01/28/2011 8:34:48 PM CST
Arlene Morgan says ...
As long as this is true I will continue to buy from Whole Foods. I love to shop there and buy, especially, their 365 brand products. That is all that is in my cupboard and fridge/freezer. It's the best way I know how to stay healthy and take care of my temple (my body)... With no insurance and all that is very important... I trust that you guys will keep up the good work and provide good wholesome products and great customer service... When is the new store coming to Winchester, VA? :-)
01/28/2011 8:57:23 PM CST
Tiffany says ...
I would have liked to see Whole Foods push for an outright ban on GE alfalfa, even if the USDA said they were not considering it. Why not use your influence to pressure them to consider it? Isn't that how negotiations work: you ask for more than you want knowing that you'll have to compromise and meet somewhere in the middle? This is a sad and scary day for organic foods in the United States.
01/28/2011 9:05:22 PM CST
obamalove says ...
I support Whole Foods!
01/28/2011 9:34:18 PM CST
Glenn says ...
"We told them (USDA) not to do it, we swear we did!" You lost a customer and many of my friends too. I suggest WFM make a statement through a televised medium and inform people how we are all going to turn this thing around.
01/28/2011 9:51:43 PM CST
Debbie says ...
I am deeply saddened that we live in a country with a motto of "In God We Trust" and we the people have allowed ourselves to be turned into sheeple and have put our trust in politicians who have sold God's bounty down the river to the devil's Frankenfoods. I do not and will not buy anything that is not certified organic. And do not be deceived by the words "natural" on a product that contains soy, corn canola, sugar beets, wheat as chances are they are from GMO sources. There should be laws for those who commit crimes against humanity but who would make those laws since our law makers are the ones committing the crimes.
01/28/2011 10:03:06 PM CST
Theresa says ...
Have you checked out this Organic Consumers Association page on Facebook? I've noticed consistent bad information posted on their part. It's getting a lot of people angry with you and I'm not sure it's called for.
01/28/2011 10:09:53 PM CST

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