Whole Foods Market – Label Genetically Engineered Food Ingredients (2004 – 2005)
Whole Foods Market was quoted in USA Today stating, ‘There’s an absolute anger among customers that foods are being genetically modified and they don’t know what ingredients are in their foods’ (Source: USA Today, 1/4/00);
In a survey conducted by the Food Policy Institute, less than half of those polled (45%) believed it safe to consume genetically engineered (GE) foods;
Our company’s “Core Values” state: “We can generate greater appreciation and loyalty from all of our stakeholders by educating them about natural and organic foods, health, nutrition and the environment”;
According to our company, as of October 2001, all manufacturers making private label products for Whole Foods are using ingredients derived from non-genetically engineered crops, yet this information is not directly indicated in the products’ packaging or labels;
Shareholders request that the Board of Directors adopt a policy of identifying and labeling all Whole Foods private label products with respect to their genetically engineered (GE) ingredients and non-GE ingredients, and to report to shareholders by October 2005 on company progress toward this goal.
The shareholders believe that by voluntarily stating on its private product labels that such products are GE-avoidant, Whole Foods can indeed “generate [the] greater appreciation and loyalty from all of our stakeholders” to which our Company’s Core Values aspire. We believe that our company is failing to take advantage of a natural opportunity to enhance its market share, given consumer wariness of genetically engineered foods.
Whole Foods sells both organic and non-organic private label products. Our web site states, “Consumers can rest assured that the use of genetically modified organisms…are strictly prohibited throughout organic food production.” Therefore, Whole Foods could state directly on non-organic private labels that such products avoid GE ingredients (with appropriate disclaimers regarding the possibility of contamination beyond the control of the manufacturers). We believe that this silence on GE ingredients may confuse consumers, and obscures the admirable lengths to which our company has gone to exclude GE ingredients from all of its private label products.
By failing to educate consumers on its GE-avoidant ingredient policy through labels and prominent in-store educational materials, Whole Foods is squandering what should be a natural marketing advantage.
 “Public Perceptions of Genetically Modified Foods: A National Study of American Knowledge and Opinion” available at http://www.foodpolicyinstitute.org/docs/reports/NationalStudy2003.pdf.