Exclusive Interview with Whole Foods Co-CEO Walter Robb, President A.C. Gallo: “All GMOs will be Labeled in Our Stores by 2018″

Written by Max Goldberg on March 9, 2013. Follow Max on Twitter: @livingmaxwell.

Yesterday at Natural Products Expo West, the biggest organic trade show of the year, Whole Foods made a HUGE announcement.

The company said that by 2018, all products in its U.S. and Canadian stores must be labeled to indicate whether they contain genetically-modified organisms (GMOs).

The importance of this announcement cannot be underestimated. Why?

Right now, there are 62 countries around the world that require GMOs to be labeled, but the U.S. is not one of them.

By mandating that its suppliers label any products which contain GMOs, Whole Foods has made a enormous commitment to transparency and has gone above and beyond what federal laws require.

Immediately after the announcement to the press at Expo West, I was able to get the very first interview with the company and spoke with Co-CEO Walter Robb and President A.C. Gallo.

What struck me was how candid Walter Robb was when discussing the feedback from Whole Foods’ customers about how the company has handled GMOs in the past.

All I can say is major, major kudos to Whole Foods for taking this tremendous step in protecting our fundamental right to know what is in our food.

Awesome job!!!

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15 Comments

  1. I got real angry at WF for not fighting against GMO alfalfa (so now they can say their grass-fed beef is great when in actuality it is fed GMO alfalfa), I didn’t appreciate that they didn’t support Prop 37 until the last minute and didin’t contribute financially until it was too late, BUT…

    I do support them on this one. They are aware that if they don’t take a stance this is DO OR DIE for them. They can’t fool around anymore, they need to do something because organic consumers are fed up.

    Written by JasonMChicago on March 9, 2013 @ 1:52 pm
  2. They should not need five years to get this done. By then federal law will require labeling. The anti-transgenic tide is rising. Whole Foods needs to do more and sooner. They could start by eliminating from their stores the brands that are owned by companies that supported the defeat of Proposition 37, and they could offer a bigger selection of certified organic products. Here is what my friend Fred Lundgren wrote to them:
    An open letter to John Mackey of Whole Foods

    Message from Fred Lundgren of KCAA Radio

    To John Mackey,
    I am a 4th generation Travis County Texas land owner and my son is a local organic farmer in eastern Travis County near Austin.

    I was a staff assistant to Jim Hightower during the 1980s at the Texas
    Department of Agriculture. I remember when Whole Foods was called
    “Saferway” and I remember when it was destroyed by the Memorial Day flood in Austin and how the community helped it to recover.

    During our years at the State Capitol, we helped to popularize and promote
    the idea of organic farming and we drafted many organic food production
    regulations that eventually found their way into federal law. We never
    dreamed of a time when crops would be sprayed with Roundup and then sold at Whole Food Markets without labeling.

    Back then, the concept of GMOs did not exist. However, if it had been
    introduced, the idea of selling genetically modified crops that had been
    adulterated with Roundup would have been seen as an abomination and even criminal.

    Now, Whole Foods “boasts” of requiring the addition of GMO labels over a multi-year period? Oh, how things have changed.

    I am amazed at how consistently the chase for the almighty dollar has
    formulated your company’s situation ethics over the years, thus replacing the spirit of a really great organization.

    I just read (for a second time), your press release on eventually requiring
    GMO labels for products sold in Whole Foods Markets.

    Your attempt to rationalize the sale of GMOs by labeling them is simply
    absurd.

    I own a radio station in Southern California and I saw the chemical lobby
    systematically destroy the 2012 GMO labeling campaign with 50 million
    dollars worth of lies. They warned of $400.00 bread and $50.00 milk. They bought almost every newspaper in the state.
    Almost no media outlet except KCAA explained that GMO modification allows
    farmers to spray Roundup herbicide directly on their growing crops to
    eliminate the need for hand weeding and mechanical cultivation. No other media outlet told the public that 80% of all corn and 95% of all soybeans in America are sprayed with Roundup.

    Why didn’t Whole Foods tell this story in California? Instead, Whole Foods did virtually nothing to offset Monsanto’s campaign of disinformation. And now, only months later, your company boasts of requiring labeling…eventually?

    I have a basic question that deserves a straight answer. Why does Whole Foods sell any GMO products at all?

    From my point of view, Whole Foods has lost its way and it needs to redefine its core values.

    Sincerely,

    Fred Lundgren
    Founder and ceo of KCAA Radio
    Loma Linda, CA.
    http://www.kcaaradio.com

    I agree with Fred. For years Whole Foods made the commitment not to sell transgenic food, and when they caved in on that in 2010 at the same time they supported “co-existence,” they were hammered for it, and they gave only lukewarm and late support to Proposition 37 when big support and appropriate funding from them could have made the difference. They do not win my praise taking baby steps when real leadership is needed. This is a big human health and safety issue. This is not a matter where belated foot dragging is good enough.

    Written by Don Patterson on March 9, 2013 @ 4:15 pm
  3. I’m happy that Whole Foods is taking a stand on this issue, but really, five years??? They should be able to do this within no longer than a year. What does it take to label foods? Not much. I’ve heard that Whole Foods in the UK is already labeling GMOs.

    My other concern is that the longer they wait to label GMOs, the more damaging it is to the health of their customers and the environment.

    Written by Lisa H. on March 9, 2013 @ 7:28 pm
  4. Whole Foods does have it’s controversial points but it’s the best thing I have for more affordable organic food and more natural packaged goods… And it’s still an hour drive! With 2 children under 5 and a very tight budget I’m happy to support whole foods on this one!

    Written by Kim on March 9, 2013 @ 8:25 pm
  5. Wow, Max, congratulations. Great interview! Getting all the big guns. Pretty soon we’re going to see you interviewing President Obama.

    Written by Nancy Sullivan on March 9, 2013 @ 10:12 pm
  6. Max, way to go getting the interview, you are really doing such a great job getting the info out.

    I am excited about this as well, and also agree with the awesome points above……5 years is just too long. Some of these major suppliers are going to have to source new crops and maybe even grow some new ones. But it always comes down to money doesn’t it!? No one wants to have an empty shelf; WF’s or the suppliers.

    Changing labels can take as little as a few weeks, so it’s not that. Changing a printing plate cost a few hundred dollars for a company my size!!! I think it’s b/c the big guys that make this crap, as well as WF’s…..(their bakery items contain GMO’s, their 365 line does not), are really going to have to reformulate their recipes. There isn’t as much canola and soy oil that isn’t GMO available, and it’s fricken in everything!

    I really wonder if they will just simply label it and not worry beyond that.I know first hand that so many consumers do not even read labels, they just look at the price and the front of the package and toss it in their basket. Some do of course, but it’s all about $$$$ and if enough don’t that it doesn’t hurt their bottom line they will keep laughing all the way to the bank.

    The worst part is WF’s should have given people 6 months to change the label… if the company was then motivated to do the right thing then they would work on their recipe and make that change when they could.

    If you are big then that is plenty of time to change the printing plate and run through packaging and if you are small get a fricken sticker and stop making GMO’s!

    Written by Kristen on March 10, 2013 @ 6:55 pm
  7. Great job max! Thank you for sharing. It’s unfortunate that whole foods sells products with GMO’s but at least they are moving in the right direction! If alreadying labeling in th uk, they should be able to get this done quicker than 5 years but this step is better than no steps. Thanks for all your work!

    Written by Heather ford on March 11, 2013 @ 8:31 pm
  8. Hi Everyone,

    What is important to note is that many items will be labeled well before the 5 year deadline while others may not be. I had a supplier at Expo West tell me that 5 years was absolutely nuts because it was not enough time. It all depends on the type of product and how much non-GMO raw material is available.

    This is a massive, massive endeavor, there are a ton of legal issues on both the state and federal level to deal with, and Whole Foods has over 100,000 suppliers. The company will do it as fast as it can but will take its time to do it right.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on March 12, 2013 @ 2:26 pm
  9. Why not just BAN GMO’s from Whole Food stores? I have no respect for Whole Foods since they didn’t originally support proposal 37 in California, and now their bottom line is down because of the GMO alfalfa discovery, so they’re trying to make it sound like they’re such a conscientious company who cares about their customers. NOT! The only thing they care about is their bottom line, just like the rest of the big corps that forked over money to fight 37.

    Written by Sandi White on March 12, 2013 @ 3:45 pm
  10. If Whole Foods cannot deal with over 100,000 suppliers, then Whole Foods should downsize so it could deal with less suppliers.
    What Whole Foods was when it started is no longer at the present time. That’s what WF need to finally admit: they have changed the entire ethics, path, and future business goal for the rest of their WHole Foods history. Whole Foods will be mostly remembered as the Grand Food Retailer who switched from ‘whole foods’ to ‘conventional foods’ but forgot to change its Business Name to ‘Just Another QFC”, or ‘Just Another Fred Meyer’,or ‘Just Another Safeway’.
    Those Food Retailers have Organics, too. Only they don’t lie of having more than they actually do!
    For me Whole Foods is just another Conventional Food Store with only 15% organics left in their buildings, while still overcharging for conventional food products as if they were STILL organics!
    Once they breached consumers’ trust, they’re done!
    It could never be undone now, no matter how they twist their marketing department, it’s way too late.
    I say, bad leadership is bad leadership–all corrupt.
    Bad ethics is bad ethics.
    Yes, their bakery cooks pizza and other foods there with canola oil last time I asked an employee. The cakes are still being charged triple the price other Retailers charge, and yet they are loaded with conventional food ingredients. There are many smaller Organic Food Retailers that I find are not altered yet and I direct consumers to those, for those of us who like it pure organics, no lies , no deceptive tactics.
    If’s as if the US would have joined sides with the Nazis and only after the WWII would have switched sides back to the Alies: imagine that!!–it would have been tooooooooo late, right?!
    Exactly.
    Corruption never converts back to honesty–NEVER!
    Voila.

    Written by monica on March 12, 2013 @ 9:25 pm
  11. We stopped buying at WF years ago when they moved to the upscale neighbords here in Phoenix. The prices went up when they moved. We said good buy to them.
    W Z

    Written by Willy Zunker on March 16, 2013 @ 9:19 pm
  12. I do not see the reason why this would take 5 years. It is absurd!!! BUT,…. WF should sell ONLY whole food!!!! No GMOs, No pesticides, nothing artificial,…no preservatives, ….. etc.
    I do agree with Fred from Loma Linda California. He is absolutely right!!!
    WF needs to wake up!!! And act NOW!!!!

    Written by Marika CA on March 17, 2013 @ 3:51 pm
  13. Hi Marika,

    For many items, it will take less than 5 years but they probably want to give suppliers time to switch over to Non-GMO sources.

    Live well,
    Max

    Written by Max Goldberg on March 18, 2013 @ 2:47 pm
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