When Californians failed to vote Prop 37 into law, the measure that would have forced food producers to label genetically modified organisms, everyone knew that wasn't going to be the final say. That vote may have been lost 53% to 47%, but the battle itself was far from over.
On a very basic level, it wasn't as if 53% of Californians didn't want to know whether or not there are GMOs in their food. They were voting against the writing of this specific law. But sooner or later, no matter how many ad dollars Monsanto and friends throw into the fight to keep GMO-laced foods from being labeled as such, there's going to be a law that will make most of the state's citizens happy, and California's food suppliers will have to admit whether or not they use GMOs. Thing is, by the time that theoretically future perfect bill ultimately passes, it may actually be redundant. As Whole Foods is showing, GMO labeling may occur without the need for government intervention.
The chain of Whole Foods grocery stores, long the crush of the foodie movement because of their pro-organic sensibilities, is taking labeling matters into their own hands after announcing a dramatic step: They've promised that by 2018 all of the products they carry containing GMOs will be labeled as such. Their explanation for doing so is straightforward:
"We are putting a stake in the ground on GMO labeling to support the consumer's right to know," said Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, in a press release. "The prevalence of GMOs in the U.S. paired with nonexistent mandatory labeling makes it very difficult for retailers to source non-GMO options and for consumers to choose non-GMO products. Accordingly, we are stepping up our support of certified organic agriculture, where GMOs are not allowed, and we are working together with our supplier partners to grow our non-GMO supply chain to ensure we can continue to provide these choices in the future."
In other words, Whole Foods is going to speak to all of the suppliers of non-organic foods they carry, check in on whether or not those suppliers use GMOs, and if they are, make sure they stick a warning label on their products. And if they don't? Whole Foods will just not carry them anymore. Simple as that.
While this approach makes sense for Whole Foods from purely a numbers perspective -- since they carry a much smaller percentage of non-organic offerings than, say, Ralph's, it's not as if they have to completely overhaul their aisles if no suppliers agree to label their GMO-"enhanced" products -- it also makes sense from a perspective of simply Give The Public What They Want.
Despite the results of our state's Prop 37 vote, the country overwhelmingly wants to know what's in their food: According to a poll put together by Huffington Post earlier this month, 82% of Americans believe foods containing GMOs should be labeled. The Whole Foods move, then, is less about simply doing what they believe (that's just happenstance), and more about looking at the numbers of what the public wants and giving it to them. The bad news of taking this more-skeptical approach concerning their intentions? Whole Foods isn't as altruistic as you wished. But the good news in looking at the news through this lens? If this is what the public truly wants, then Whole Foods is sure to be the first in a long line of grocery chains forcing GMO labeling.
Which is a nice reminder that GMO labeling isn't a matter of if, it's a matter of when.