In my Wednesdays at Whole Foods column last December, I wrote about how the company would be rolling out a very innovative produce rating system in 2014.
Well, the wait is over.
After three years of exhaustive research, planning, and collaboration with suppliers, scientists and issue experts, Responsibly Grown, as the program is officially known, was just announced this morning.
And my enthusiasm about this initiative back then has been echoed by many industry leaders today.
Responsibly Grown is a produce rating system that assesses growing practices that impact human health and the environment.
* The new rating system labels fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers as GOOD, BETTER, or BEST to help shoppers make more informed choices in the produce and floral departments.
The areas that determine a product’s rating include:
– Pest management, including prohibited and restricted pesticides
– Farm worker welfare
– Pollinator protection
– Water conservation and protection
– Soil health
– Waste reduction and recycling and packaging
– Air, energy, and climate
* There is a real emphasis on protecting bees, a vitally important area that has been completely neglected by our government.
The program prohibits the use of several of the most hazardous neurotoxins still allowed in agriculture, including the four primary neonicotinoid pesticides (clothianidin, dinotefuran, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam) linked to bee declines.
* Responsibly Grown also prohibits the use of several organophosphate insecticides, which recent studies indicate can impair neurological development in children born to mothers exposed in diet or by working in agriculture and living in nearby communities.
* More than 50% of the produce in all of Whole Foods Market stores in the U.S. will be rated, with the goal of having 100% of all fruits, vegetables, and flowers rated over time.
Responsibly Grown will not only pressure farmers to decrease their use of super-toxic pesticides that harm both the environment and farm workers, but shoppers are now getting an unprecedented level of information about the products that they are purchasing.
To be able to get such deep insight into a farmer’s commitment to environmental and social responsibility is of tremendous value, and it also empowers the consumer like never before.
What’s even more amazing is the impact that Responsibly Grown is already having.
“As a result of this program, we are already hearing from fruit and vegetable farmers who are creating wildflower-rich habitat for bees, and working to reduce or eliminate pesticides on farms from New Jersey to Iowa to California,” said Eric Mader, assistant pollinator program director for The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. “This type of action is the first and most important step in reversing the ongoing decline of bees, butterflies, and other pollinators.”
Just like it did with its historic GMO-labeling initiative, Whole Foods Market is again raising the bar when it comes to offering transparency to its customers. Furthermore, the company has taken a real stand on key agricultural issues with Responsibly Grown and is holding farmers firmly accountable for their operational practices.
Whole Foods Market deserves a ton of credit for this launching this groundbreaking program. We’re all much, much better off for it.