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