My Take on the Organic Spies Video About Whole Foods

Written by Max Goldberg on October 5, 2012. Follow Max on Twitter: @livingmaxwell.

I know that this reaction is coming very late but for the last two weeks, I had been working around the clock planning our GMO-labeling fundraiser in NYC and did not have time to watch the video.

With people constantly asking for my opinion on the Whole Foods/GMO controversy and with the event finally over, I saw the Organic Spies video in its entirety last night and here is my reaction.

The fact that Whole Foods sells GMOs is nothing new to me. In the past, I have had very specific conversations with the people in PR at Whole Foods about this issue, and they told me point blank “Yes, we sell products that have GMOs in them.”

As the Organic Spies video showed, however, not all employees realize this and many of them are giving out incorrect information about whether Whole Foods sells GMOs or not.

This is unacceptable. Employees cannot be giving out the wrong information, especially when it comes to GMOs.

Yet, it is something that the company has since acknowledged.

A.C. Gallo, President and Chief Operating Officer of Whole Foods, said in a blog post that “Some products in our stores DO contain GMOs” and that “we need to do a better job of making sure our Team Members understand this so they can provide customers with the facts.”

He also went on to say that “I hope you don’t believe the claims that Whole Foods Market is coaching its Team Members to give false information to its customers, because it’s completely untrue. The idea goes directly against who we are as a company – for years, we’ve worked hard to provide as much information as possible about our products to our customers.”

The Organic Spies video insinuates that Whole Foods is coaching its people to give out false information, and I find this to be preposterous.

While I don’t know A.C. Gallo personally, I do know Walter Robb, Co-CEO of Whole Foods, and I find him to be an individual of great integrity and someone who would never allow this to happen.

I have no doubt that this issue about employees being properly informed about GMOs is something that is being addressed internally and in a very serious way.

While Whole Foods does sell products with GMOs, all of its 365 Everyday Value products are either Non-GMO Verified or are in the verification process.

Did Whole Foods endorse Proposition 37? Yes.

Did Whole Foods help promote our GMO-labeling fundraiser in NYC to its 24,000 followers on Twitter? Yes. Here is one example and here is another.

Has Whole Foods made a financial contribution to CA Right to Know? No, and they’re not the only one who hasn’t done so.

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I have two closing thoughts.

1) Just like the rest of us, Whole Foods makes mistakes and is by no means perfect.

Yet, the importance of Whole Foods to the organic food industry can never be underestimated, and the company’s positive contributions to consumers and to society are easily and often overlooked.

2) If we want to fight back against GMOs and have Whole Foods and other supermarkets stop selling them, it is quite simple – we have to stop buying these products.

The number that has been talked about is 5%. If we can cause a decrease in sales by 5% of a specific GMO-food product, then the manufacturer would strongly consider switching to non-GMO ingredients.

Nothing is more powerful than voting with our dollars, and we need to start using capitalism to enact the change that we want to see in the world.

Our protests to politicians about GMOs are falling on deaf ears, so it is time we get serious and take our fight to the cash register.

Because if we do, you can be guaranteed that companies will be listening.

#GMOfreefriday

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16 Comments

  1. Well said!! Whole Foods certainly isn’t perfect, but they are trying to provide consumers with organic options, and they are certainly doing better than other grocery store chains. We as consumers need to stay informed and not assume anything.

    Written by Laurie on October 5, 2012 @ 3:16 pm
  2. Hi Laurie,

    It is very true about what you wrote – consumers must stay informed. If they do, they can avoid GMOs. Period.

    And WFM is providing consumers with more organic options than any other national chain. Well said.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on October 5, 2012 @ 6:57 pm
  3. Hi Max,

    Nicely written. It seems that when many of these stories break, people read them as all good or all bad, without taking a step back to acknowledge that there are many shades of grey in between. We all need to acknowledge the power of our dollar and know that no matter where we shop, we have to be educated consumers.

    -Marissa (www.hipandhealthykids.com)

    Written by Marissa on October 5, 2012 @ 7:16 pm
  4. Hi Marissa,

    I agree with you. The conversation needs to switch –> our dollar must become the vote that matters. Companies will listen because CEOs like their jobs and the accompanying big paychecks.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on October 5, 2012 @ 7:22 pm
  5. Thank you, Max
    For your research and for taking the time
    to speak to the folks at WFM and for your all great posts which
    are a joy to read, succinct and very clear.

    All the best,
    stephanie

    Written by stephanie haughey on October 5, 2012 @ 9:32 pm
  6. Your mature and well reasoned observations are very welcome. It is unfortunate that many of those who claim to speak for ‘organic integrity’ are willing to compromise theirs.

    Written by Grace Geshuny on October 6, 2012 @ 8:25 am
  7. Hi Stephanie,

    Thanks so much for your kind words and continual support of what I am doing here. It is very appreciated.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on October 6, 2012 @ 9:08 am
  8. Hi Grace,

    Thanks for your words. I tried to be as objective and reasonable as I could. Whole Foods makes mistakes, like any company or person, but they do a tremendous amount of good for organic, something that most people take for granted and rarely acknowledge.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on October 6, 2012 @ 9:13 am
  9. In a perfect world, we could all grow our own food, barter or buy from co-ops or CSA’s. Whole Foods is not perfect, though it provides a good variety of organic options and alternative products for shoppers looking for healthier foods. When I did shop there, the stores seemed to suffer the same problems that most retailers go through and that is a high turnover of employees. It would be extremely difficult in that situation to train employees to know the ingredients of every packaged good on the shelves. I’ve been working on a farm for almost two years and can’t identify every tree and plant on the property. It would be easy for a film maker to cherry pick a few employees to make it appear that they are liars or grossly misinformed.
    John

    Written by John Brownlee on October 7, 2012 @ 4:29 am
  10. Max: while co-CEO Robb of Whole Foods may be, in your estimation, a man of integrity, the other co-CEO, John Mackey, courts controversy with his views on social issues (especially health care), climate change, and capitalism being “moral.” These opinions just don’t fit the values of many Whole Foods customers. The other issue I have is the affordability of organic foods at their markets and the issue that you bring up, that is, not every employee is being trained to know what is what between organic, conventionally grown, GMO, and so forth. The organic and conventional foods are marked, sure, and the conventional foods are usually less expensive, but on par with what I can get at my local superstore or supermarket, so why go there if I can’t afford the organic produce or grocery items I really want? The grocery store down the road actually marks what is locally grown within 100 miles of the store. The local cooperative does the same thing and supports sustainability as well and is less expensive, and I have part ownership as well so I have a say in how it goes, though yes, it is still pricey for a part-time worker and full-time student. If Whole Foods wants to prove itself as more than just another corporate profit entity, it needs to be more aware of the needs of its customers. For me, Whole Foods is a treat, not an everyday experience, but I wish I could afford to make it an everyday experience for health reasons.

    Written by Heidi on October 7, 2012 @ 5:38 pm
  11. Hi Heidi,

    I very much appreciate your comments and hear what you are saying. Thanks for sharing.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on October 8, 2012 @ 2:23 pm
  12. Hi John,

    Whole Foods has 70,000 employees (I believe) and making sure they are all properly informed is quite a task. With respect to GMOs, however, it must be made a lot more clear and I have no doubt that going forward this message will be properly communicated.

    Thanks for your comment.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on October 8, 2012 @ 2:26 pm
  13. Thank you for pointing out that the 365 products are non-GMO and that Whole Foods is not against GMO labeling.

    The only way for us to vote at the cash register is to know what we are voting for, i.e. what products contain GMOs, which is the whole point behind the labeling campaign of course.

    Whole Foods is bottom-line oriented as are all corporations (not passing judgement here) so they are not going to make any changes that hurt their business. But one thing they can do that would allow them to sell GMO products to consumers who do not care while avoiding complicity to some degree would be to produce a very simple buying guide posted around the store that explains what labels to look for (Organic or non-GMO project certified or 365 brands) when avoiding GMOs, as well as the ingredients most likely to contain genetically modified food, such as corn and soy. This could get the GMO suppliers’ attention without Whole Foods cutting them off altogether, which would be nice but too much to expect at this moment.

    I consider myself pretty nutritionally literate and until this year, was not really aware of what to watch out for concerning GMO food.
    I doubt that even most Whole Foods shoppers realize that when they buy corn chips that are not specifically NON-GMO, they are getting GMO corn. That is why education and labeling are so important.

    The spy video served one important purpose in bringing the misinformed employee issue to the forefront so that it can be corrected; surely the false information would have continued without it.

    Written by Glenn on October 9, 2012 @ 12:15 pm
  14. Hi Glenn,

    I agree with you. The video did serve an important purpose – to get Whole Foods to start educating their people correctly about GMOs.

    Thanks so much for the comment and great feedback. And, yes, we must make some noise at the cash register. Without a doubt.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on October 9, 2012 @ 3:42 pm
  15. Hi Max- your commentary was in interesting read. I agree, whole foods has done great things for increasing our access to organic food. I do hope the chain does a better job educating their employees about GMO and does an even better job supporting labeling GMO products. I didn’t know about 365 products not having GMO (or getting certified to not have gmo), that is good info.

    LABEL GMOS!

    Written by Molly on October 10, 2012 @ 4:24 pm
  16. Hi Molly,

    I certainly believe that this will be one of the good things that comes out of this video – Whole Foods will do a much, much better job of educating its employees about GMOs. Without a doubt.

    Thanks for writing.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on October 11, 2012 @ 10:42 am

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