Much ado has been made about Whole Foods’ recent assertion that they will require labeling on all GMO foods sold in their stores by 2018, and rightfully so. It’s a game changer. Of course there are those who have cheered loudly at the news, followed by the jeers of skeptics and critics, but overall this is a huge step forward in providing consumers with more information about what is in their food. And that’s all it’s about – providing information. When pressed in a recent interview with the Washington Post about the endgoal of this intrepid decision, co-CEO Walter Robb remarked
I don’t know how this will come out in terms of the labels. It’s not like we’re going to put a skull and crossbones on it. We’re just going to put a label on it and let people make their decisions. We’re not aiming to be a GMO-free store, but we’re aiming to be a 100 percent transparent store.
And it is that simple. Those pushing for this labeling on a national scale are asking for one thing – information. So, while the fabled Prop 37 in California was defeated, support for this level of transparency has risen and many states have begun initiatives to get labeling on the ballot again soon. All of this is encouraging, but admittedly a long and arduous process. Whole Foods has shown that change doesn’t have to wait for legislation to act, it can come from well intentioned companies and the support of the consumer.
But with chirping about a potential about face from Big Food on labeling, any offers for a compromise must be taken with caution. With Big Food at the bargaining table, weaker versions of labeling laws chockfull of loopholes are inevitable, and labeling will become a self-serving tool to push more product. The leaders in the food industry have deep pockets and know what they are doing: there is almost always a catch.
With the science of the longterm affects of GMO foods still in its infancy (thanks largely inpart to Big Food itself), there has been much debate about how useful or dangerous these products can be, but an outright ban until that has more clarity is not likely, nor is it the answer. Providing this information is simple, harmless, and at the end of the day, the right thing to do.