Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

leonkaye headshot

Whole Foods GMO Policy Could Hurt Artisan Food Makers

Words by Leon Kaye

Whole Foods has long made a splash for its stance on genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. Non-GMO labeling and signs are all over its stores and prove this has been part of its overall success is in the company’s performance.

While many retailers disappeared after the 2008 financial crisis, Whole Foods continued to grow. Its stock price has long been on an upward trajectory, and the stock has stoked plenty of portfolios with its split last year. Shoppers cram the beautiful stores to buy everything from pricey supplements to the more cost-competitive 365 Everyday Value private label products — and of course, the artisan goodies, from breads to cheeses to snacks.

But the company’s promise to have GMO labeling on all of its products by 2018 is having consequences. As the Guardian showcased last week, artisan cheesemakers who rely on Whole Foods to sell their products are worried about Whole Foods' directives to its suppliers. Why? While many of these cheesemakers allow their cows to graze on grass, shun antibiotics and churn their products in small batches, some do use a small amount of GMO feed. Similar challenges are faced by small vineyards and breweries that could find traces of GMOs within their supply chains. The result has been angst within small businesses, many of which are headed by people who have devoted their lives, and finances, to their beloved crafts. That one GMO ingredient in their product's supply chain could have a massive impact on their businesses.

Blame for this absurd trend must be laid on all sides. The shenanigans of companies such as Monsanto, which spent millions to defeat California’s GMO-labeling initiative, Proposition 37, fuels a fair amount of anti-GMO sentiment. A U.S. Department of Agriculture that comes across as siding with agribusiness over the interests of small farmers also fans the flame. Then there are the spit-spats over studies that indicate GMOs are evil — or then again, maybe they are not. Indeed, it is fair that customers have the right to know what is in their food. Transparency is often the banner call many of those deeply involved in the GMO controversy. And after all, while Monsanto has long been against any GMO labeling, the company actually supported such efforts across the pond.

But at the same time, many anti-GMO activists base their invective on emotion, not science — analogous to the conventional-vs-organic debate when it comes to produce and most food in general. Oddly enough, Whole Foods’ self-serving top 10 tips to avoid GMOs does not even mention why GMOs are to be avoided. Celebrities weighing in on GMOs launch about as much eye-rolling as those who have weighed in on the debate over vaccinations. And let’s remember when GMOs first appeared in the mid-1990s, they were often lauded as one way to feed a world that could reach 9 billion people by 2050. Now the debate has shifted to an organic vs. frankenfood debate, with no middle ground.

The result is that the small businesses many of us put on a pedestal for their deliverance of healthful foods are now in danger of losing customers. And rambling blog articles railing against GMO foods, which again, do not even outline the perceived dangers or risks, hardly help the small local cheesemaker, brewer or vineyard. The hysteria generated against the likes of Cargill, ADM and Monsanto have caught up too many small businesses in this web — leaving out any middle ground, reasonable debate and acknowledgement that maybe, just maybe, GMOs have a justifiable role in delivering safe, secure, healthy, and YES artisan and handcrafted foods we pay a pretty penny, or not, to enjoy.

Image credit: Whole Foods

Leon Kaye has lived in Abu Dhabi for the past year and is on his way back to California. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter. Other thoughts of his are on his site, greengopost.com.

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He is also the Director of Social Media and Engagement for 3BL Media. His previous work can be found at The GuardianSustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. Kaye is based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye

More stories from Energy & Environment