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.
All this begs a question: is Whole Foods softening its commitment to GMO-labeling transparency?
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.