Whole Foods Market may have upset the apple cart in the food industry, so to speak, when the grocery chain announced on March 8 it would begin requiring labeling of all genetically modified foods sold in its stores. New York Times reporter Stephanie Strom noted that some experts believe the move – the first such labeling requirement by a U.S. retailer – “could radically alter the food industry.”
A bit of background on genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, in foods from Medline Plus, a service of the National Institutes of Health’s U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Genetically engineered foods have had foreign genes (genes from other plants or animals) inserted into their genetic codes. Genetic engineering can be done with plants, animals, or microorganisms. Historically, farmers bred plants and animals for thousands of years to produce the desired traits. For example, they produced dogs ranging from poodles to Great Danes, and roses from sweet-smelling miniatures to today’s long-lasting, but scent-free reds.”
Genetically engineered foods, Medline Plus notes, offer the benefits of improved nutrition and taste, greater disease- and drought-resistance and an increased food supply. Critics of such foods say the genetic changes may create unexpected and harmful side effects; at the least, they say, consumers should know whether the foods they’re buying have been re-engineered.
“This is an issue whose time has come,” Whole Foods Co-Chief Executive Walter Robb was quoted by Slate.com blogger Daniel Politi. “With cases like horse meat discovered in the U.K., plastic in milk in China, the recalls of almond and peanut butter in the U.S., customers have a fundamental right to know what’s in their food.”
It’s important to note that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association say genetically modified foods are safe. But the announcement by Whole Foods to have all such products labeled as such in its stories within five years will likely spark lots more discussions, debates and disagreements about these products.
What do you think about genetically modified foods and efforts to label them?