Recently, Whole Foods announced that it is partnering with the Non-GMO Project to use the Project’s Product Verification Program (“PVP”) to certify Whole Foods’ private labeling food line as being free from genetically modified ingredients. In so doing, Whole Foods is joining the Natural Grocery Company, the Big Carrot Natural Food Market and Good Earth Natural Foods, the early partners of the Non-GMO Project, and the companies that have lent major support to the project and participated in the initial piloting of labeling program including Eden Foods, Organic Valley, Lundberg Family Farms, Nature’s Path Organic and United Natural Foods, Inc. Whole Foods becomes the first major chain at the retail level to enroll its product in the verification system (although other private labels are also interested).
As the Whole Foods press release states, the PVP is the nation’s first system designed to scientifically test whether a product has met a set of defined standards for the presence of genetically engineered organisms. Specifically, the PVP uses a process that combines on-site facility audits, document-based review and DNA testing to measure compliance with the standard. For a product to bear the non-gmo seal it must undergo a process through which any ingredient at high risk for genetic contamination, such as soy or corn, has been shown to meet the non-GMO standard through avoidance practices and testing.
Once a product has been approved through the PVP it can be described as being verified by the Non-GMO Project and/or be labeled with the Non-GMO Project’s compliance seal. The first Whole Foods Market private label products to bear this seal are expected to be in stores before the end of the year.
Needless to say, Whole Foods, together with companies that have already signed up with the Non-GMO Project or are in the process of so doing, are taking a step in the right direction. While some may criticize Whole Foods as a big company whose decision is part of a self-promotion scheme, is indisputable that in this case, a big business is making a decision that will have a positive consumer impact. Would it be too optimistic to hope that if enough companies participated in the labeling it would pave the way to a mandatory labeling requirement?
A related issue is whether Whole Foods and/or other companies will charge extra for products labeled as non-gmo? And if so, what will be the resulting mark-up? It is unfortunate that food production has become so commercialized that consumers have to pay a premium to get food products that are free from impurities. But that is a topic for another day. For now, let’s applaud a small victory for consumer choice.
You can find a complete list of companies that have signed up with Non-GMO Project PVP labeling here: http://www.nongmoproject.org/consumers/search-enrolled-products/