Despite the narrow defeat of I-522 in Washington state last year, the momentum for GMO transparency is stronger than ever. At Whole Foods Market, we undoubtedly see that consumers want alternatives to GMOs, and they want clear and honest labeling from their food producers.
We drew our line in the sand on March 8, 2013, at Expo West in Anaheim, California, where our leadership team announced our commitment to full GMO transparency within five years. This huge undertaking encompasses all products that we sell — including plant-based processed foods, the feed for dairy, eggs and animal proteins, fresh produce, supplements and body care — and is the broadest such initiative in the world. We have set 2018 as our deadline, so we are working every day with our suppliers and will have many transparency milestones along the way.
Non-GMO and organic supply integrity is the foundation for this transparency. In order to be considered non-GMO, a product must be tested to the Non-GMO Project standards and/or be certified to USDA NOP standards. Whole Foods Market is the leading grocer for alternatives to genetically modified products, with over 5,000 products verified as non-GMO so far, and more than 10,000 such products in the pipeline. We have partnered with over 1,000 brands to date to go non-GMO, and our team members continue to prioritize these brands in our stores.
Non-GMO has been our top growth trend in the grocery department for the past three years, consistently growing between 25–30%. The non-GMO growth trend is reflected by sales increases for brands that support GMO labeling. Conversely, our customers are moving away from brands opposed to GMO labeling, with some of them down 30–40% in sales over the past year alone.
We are also pushing the envelope by developing non-GMO categories where they did not previously exist, including yogurt, eggs and fresh chicken. Our prepared foods team only sources non-GMO canola oil for products made in house and in our commissaries, while also offering many more organic options in our salad bars and hot bars. Our meat team is working with their farmers and ranchers to use non-GMO feed, creating huge demand for alternatives to GMO grains. Our produce team is working with national suppliers on sourcing non-GMO high-risk crops such as papaya, sweet corn and edamame, as well as many organic options.
An important development this year that will further fuel the need for transparency and non-GMO choices is the approval of 2,4-D (“Agent Orange”) corn and soy. Chemical companies engineer these crops to resist 2,4-D herbicide, the main ingredient in Agent Orange, because of widespread glyphosate-resistant weeds created by over-spraying. This development shows that engineering herbicide resistance increases dependence on the “chemical treadmill,” as opposed to finding farming techniques that build soil, protect human health and reduce dependency on chemical inputs. We expect that this development will further solidify our non-GMO supply chain development, as the demand for non-GMO raw materials and animal feed continues to skyrocket.
At Whole Foods Market, we are proud of the progress we have made so far on GMO transparency, and with the support of our customers, suppliers and many other stakeholders, we will continue to help positively transform our food system. We encourage other food retailers to make the same commitment.