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A "Whole" New Wrinkle in the GMO Foods Debate

PHOTO: "Do You Know If It's GMO?" That's the tagline of backers of I-522, which would require companies to label GMO foods sold in Washington. Courtesy of labelitwa.org.
PHOTO: "Do You Know If It's GMO?" That's the tagline of backers of I-522, which would require companies to label GMO foods sold in Washington. Courtesy of labelitwa.org.
April 8, 2013

SEATTLE, Wash. - The national grocery chain Whole Foods has announced it will require labeling of all genetically modified (GMO) foods sold in its stores by 2018. More than 350,000 Washingtonians have signed petitions with a similar goal, supporting Initiative 522. It would make GMO labeling a requirement for seeds and raw or processed foods sold in the state by mid-2015, with some exceptions.

Many food producers say having to label for GMO content gives the impression of a risk, when the Food and Drug Administration has said there is no cause for concern about GMO foods. Whole Foods global grocery coordinator Errol Schweizer said his company sees it as a way to offer transparency.

"We're not making a value judgment, and we're not interpreting the science one way or the other," he explained. "We're just saying the customer has the right to make an informed choice on what they are feeding themselves and their family."

Schweizer said Whole Foods already sells more than 3,300 products that are verified as non-GMO in more than 340 stores.

Critics of GMO labeling have warned it would raise food prices, and have pointed out that people already have the option of buying from organic producers or seeking out foods that are GMO-free. Schweizer said that's exactly what prompted the Whole Foods decision. The popularity of farmers' markets, and the growth of organic and fair trade brands, all signal an important trend that retailers should heed, he said.

"Our customers want to know where their food is coming from, what it's made from, who is making it," he said. "The more information that we can give our customers, the better it is - for us and for them, as well as for our producers."

In Olympia, there has been no movement lately on I-522, after hearings in both the House and Senate. Lawmakers are being asked to either adopt it as a state law or put it on the ballot for voters to decide. It has already received enough signatures to appear on the November ballot this year.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA