Whole Foods quietly pauses its GMO labeling requirements it agreed to 5 years ago

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The company’s comprehensive labeling policy was scheduled to go into effect on September 1. A new deadline has not been announced.

In an email to suppliers on Friday, Whole Foods President and Chief Operations Officer A.C. Gallo announced the company would pause its genetically modified (GMO) food labeling requirements, which were scheduled to take full effect on September 1. The rules, first announced five years ago, require that suppliers disclose the presence of genetically modified ingredients on all packaging.

In a copy of the announcement obtained by The New Food Economy, Gallo and two vice presidents write that the pause is a response to suppliers’ concerns about having to comply with two competing sets of rules: Whole Foods’ own GMO labeling requirements, and rules newly proposed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which are currently open for public comment.

“As the USDA finalizes the federal regulation in the coming months and the food industry assesses the impact, we do not want our Policy to pose further challenges for you and your business,” the letter reads.

The confusion is understandable. As currently proposed, the USDA policy would make several substantive changes to the way GMOs have traditionally been defined by the food industry—starting with the terminology itself. The government’s preferred nomenclature is “bioengineered” (BE), which only refers to a food that has had another organism’s genes spliced into it by a process called transgenesis. Other types of genetic modification, including some produced by gene-editing tools like CRISPR, would not need to be labeled.

As currently written, Whole Foods’ requirements would be more stringent than the proposed USDA rules in at least two significant ways. First, USDA has suggested letting companies label BE ingredients by QR code, meaning that customers would need to be directed to a website via smartphone to find out what’s in their food—a method that has been criticized as a cumbersome extra step. Whole Foods has never planned to allow QR codes to count as GMO disclosures, Project Nosh reports. Second, USDA rules contain perplexing carveouts for meat products, which are regulated under a different system, as explained here and here.

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Source: The New Food Economy | Whole Foods quietly pauses its GMO labeling requirements


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