Monday, January 31, 2011

I wrote to Whole Foods about genetically engineered alfalfa. Here's my email and their response.

I know you all heard about the USDA's decision to deregulate genetically engineered alfalfa, despite cries of outrage from those entities that represent organic food, local farmers, and quality produce (with real taste... tasteless tomatoes, anyone?).

Well, upon reading THIS, I was horrified and immediately emailed Whole Foods.  Here's my email, and Whole Foods's response.  Please take the time to follow the link at the very end of this post, to voice your concern (if you feel concerned) to the "powers that be."

"Due to your recent decision to support Monsanto and the mass commercialization of GE crops, I will no longer shop in your store. I am sure you've performed adequate research into Monsanto and their unethical business practices. I'm just so upset by your decision. You were a trusted leader in Organic food. No more. Your brand is severely tarnished and diminished in my eyes and in the eyes of people who care enough to pay the price for quality food - the people who [used to] shop at Whole Foods."


Whole Foods responds:

Hello Helen,
Thank you for being passionate about genetically engineered (GE or GMO) crops and for expressing your concern about the availability of non-GMO foods. We are very passionate about this too and are extremely upset that our position has been distorted out there. 


Don’t be fooled by the OCA (Organic Consumers Association) as it often twists the truth which confuses consumers. This time, OCA is misleading you by implying that we have “surrendered” to Monsanto and “cut a deal” for co-existence and that we’ll receive “compensation.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Whole Foods Market, along with the National Cooperative Grocers Association, the National Organic Coalition, the Organic Trade Association, Organic Valley, Stonyfield Farms, United Natural Foods and many others in the organic community, were trying to secure protections for organic farmers so biotechnology companies for the first time would be held accountable if GE crops polluted non-GE crops and would be forced to pay for the damages. (No money would ever go to us!) We were also pushing for measures to protect seed purity so that non-GE alfalfa supplies could be maintained.
Unfortunately, none of those protections were approved as, to our utter disappointment, the USDA decided to completely deregulate GE alfalfa without restrictions. This means farmers will now be able to plant Roundup Ready GE alfalfa beginning as soon as this spring without having to take into consideration its potential to contaminate neighboring organic and other non-GE alfalfa fields intended to be sold in markets demanding non-genetically engineered products. This is a huge loss for organic and non-GE farmers and consumers who want to have access to non-GE foods.
For the OCA to widely spread misinformation and lies about Whole Foods Market and other organic companies by saying that we are joining forces with the biotechnology industry (Monsanto) is beyond ludicrous--especially at a time when we all need to come together to support our goal of ensuring the availability of non-GE foods in the marketplace. To help clarify our overall position, we think it is helpful to see how Megan Westgate, Executive Director of the NON-GMO Project, describes the coalition efforts:
Leading up to the ruling, a broad coalition of organic organizations and companies were working around the clock in an attempt to influence the USDA’s decision. The USDA had already made it clear that alfalfa would be deregulated, but hope remained that there might be some way to soften the blow. Organic ValleyWhole Foods and Stonyfield Farm, along with many others in the organic community, were doing everything in their power to secure protections for organic farmers so that if their fields were contaminated once the GMO alfalfa was released, biotechnology companies for the first time would be held accountable for their pollution and would be forced to pay for the damages. These groups were also pushing for measures to protect seed purity so that non-GMO alfalfa supplies could be maintained. Unfathomably, these tireless organic organizations are now being criticized for their efforts. In total denial of the incontrovertible fact that the USDA was never even remotely considering a full ban on GMO alfalfa, some are suggesting that these group’s efforts to make the most of a bad situation *somehow* (though no one is very specific on how, exactly) signals corruption, and are even calling for boycotts. HOW ON EARTH is taking this out on 1200 organic family farmers going to help anything?!  This is divisiveness we cannot afford.
You can read the full article here: http://www.nongmoproject.org/2011/01/29/team-organic-will-never-surrender-to-monsanto-now-we-continue-the-fight-together/
Additionally, you may have seen strange accusations saying that Whole Foods Market has agreed to sell genetically engineered foods. We haven’t agreed to anything! This is another attempt to twist the facts. The reality is that no grocery store in the United States, no matter what size or type of business, can claim they are GMO-free. While we have been and will continue to be staunch supporters of non-GMO foods, we are not going to mislead our customers with an inaccurate claim (and you should question anyone who does). Here’s why: the pervasive planting of GMO crops in the U.S. and their subsequent use in our national food supply.  93% of soy, 86% of corn, 93% of cotton, and 93% of canola seed planted in the U.S. in 2010 were genetically engineered. Since these crops are commonly present in a wide variety of foods, a GMO-free store is currently not possible in the U.S. (unless the store sells only organic foods.) 
Since the U. S. national organic standards do not allow the use of GMO ingredients and practices in the growing or production of organic foods, choosing organic is one way consumers can avoid GMO foods. The other is through labeling, of which we are strong supporters. Here is a look at some of the other things we have done on the non-GE front over the past couple of decades:
  • We have advocated for mandatory labeling of GMO foods since 1992, even before they were made commercially available.
  • We were founding members of the Non-GMO Project, which works to ensure the sustained availability of non-GMO choices through an industry-wide product standard to create a non-GMO labeling program that can be fully substantiated.
  • Our 365 Everyday Value® and Whole Foods Market™ brand products are sourced to avoid GMOS, and our partnership with the Non-GMO Project will enable us to verify and label both natural and organic products. In fact, we have enrolled our store brand food products in this pioneering product verification program, which ensures the sustained availability of non-GMO choices through an industry-wide product standard. These include products that natural as well as those that are organic.
  • Beyond our stores, we have publicly advocated for clear labeling of GE food and shared our concerns that the USDA and FDA’s policies on GE foods are not consistent with our consumers’ expectations.
We will continue to work aggressively on this issue because we believe that GMO food ingredients should be clearly labeled, and that consumers who want to avoid them should have an actionable way to do so. While the USDA’s decision will make our work more difficult, we are as committed as ever to ensuring that non-GMO food remains available and we will continue to advocate for our farmers and for our shoppers on this issue.
Thank you for the opportunity for us to present the more complete picture on Whole Foods Market and our position on non-GMO foods. If you’d like to take action, we encourage you to write to Washington to express the importance of preserving organic and non-GE farming. Simply click this link and follow the directions:

If you have any further questions please use our on-line response form.
Best regards,

Rachael

Rachael Gruver | Global Customer Information Specialist | Whole Foods Market | 550 Bowie Street | Austin, Texas 78703

8 comments:

  1. Interesting. Thanks for posting! I hadn't actually heard about that but I'm glad Whole Foods cleared it up. That would have been a downer to not want to shop there anymore.

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  2. Yeah - I'm glad they cleared it up... but the root of my concern remains. The USDA has deregulated genetically modified foods... and that threatens the future of produce everywhere... if this continues, we eventually won't be able to get natural, flavorful produce anymore... small farmers will continue to go out of business... and one or two very large companies will CONTROL our food. This is scary.

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  3. i have not shopped at your store since it came out that you were selling "organic" (360) frozen vegetables that come from China, who has loose ideas about their regulations on organic. I shop at stores that sell food only in season and have not repeatedly been under suspicion.

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  4. Yes, I received the same offical response from WFI.

    But, there are simply way too many anti-competitive practices by WFI (Wild Oats, reference other shenanigans with so many smaller players), and bad produce as well as crazy more expensive organic than even King Soopers here in Boulder.

    Couple of examples:

    • Lowering prices below cost when entering a new market until it destroys the existing natural foods stores. Then, they raise prices above what the mom and pop's had to start with after they are out of business.

    • One very good anti-competitive examples – http://newseasonsmarket.blogspot.com/2008/11/were-just-trying-to-mind-our-own-local.html

    • And more….http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/03/wholefoods.shtm

    • Emails noted in the first link per the FTC during litigation that was from Whole Foods Execs during the Wild Oats destruction...I mean merger:

    “Wild Oats needs to be removed from the playing field...”

    “…[m]y goal is simple – I want to crush them and am willing to spend a lot of money in the process.”

    “...elimination of a competitor in the marketplace, competition for sites, competition for acquisitions, and operational economies of scale. We become the Microsoft of the natural foods industry.”

    Brings a bit into question wouldn’t you say?

    • John Mackey was widely publicized over his interesting behavior during the Whole Oats merger. In addition to recent events its totality sheds some light on a pattern of behavior and what he and his company are capable. I love the part where he says well - I never intended on anyone finding out it was me:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/13/business/13foods.html?_r=1 – highlight from NY Times - David Gardner, co-founder of the Motley Fool and a longtime champion of Whole Foods stock, said it would be difficult for Mr. Mackey to continue leading the company since its code of conduct and ethics warns against such activities. The code reads: “Team members have a primary business responsibility to WFM and are expected to avoid any activity that may interfere or have the appearance of interfering with the fulfillment of this responsibility.” “You look at this and say it looks like he acted in violation of his own code,” Mr. Gardner said. “I clearly think he should step aside for a while.”

    Additionally from the article - Mr. Mackey’s online pseudonym, Rahodeb, surfaced in a sealed court document that was filed last month by the Federal Trade Commission but only became public Wednesday evening. The agency is trying to block Whole Foods’ $565 million buyout of Wild Oats Markets on the grounds that it would limit competition.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/12/business/12foods.html - additional insight

    Mr. Mackey declined to be interviewed. But he soon posted on the company Web site, saying that the FTC was quoting Rahodeb "to embarrass both me and Whole Foods." He also said: "I posted on Yahoo! under a pseudonym because I had fun doing it. Many people post on bulletin boards using pseudonyms." He said that "I never intended any of those postings to be identified with me."

    • Also, WFI waves a flag of support "local", yet brought in Chinese and E. European frozen produce. This made big news in 2010 as I expect you are aware. Very disturbing how strongly WFI markets with their large coffers to create a different image for the company than the aforementioned. I am sure you would have to agree. Unfortunately, I still mostly see lip service to truly local sourcing.

    Buyer beware....we deserve more than slick marketing and sweet deals with folks involved with Codex Alumentarius.

    V for Victory

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  5. Tony - I really appreciate you contributing this information. These anti-competitive practices are RAMPANT in the United States. There is a true mass-consolidation occurring that threatens consumers' ability to choose. Our government is doing absolutely nothing to regulate these problems, and thus, such as did Wall Street, these huge companies will run away with the spoon. I don't understand why people aren't screaming about monopolies right now. It's as if they have no idea what we're all in for if we don't take action. The scary thing is, how drastic would our action have to be to turn around this massive ship?

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  7. Hey Helen

    Man, its depressing isnt it?! Ehhhh.

    Actually, I would offer that it really feels like a perfectly grand impetus for the creation of a much different world, and without this impetus there would not be the shift necessary for us to evolve to the next level. This is of course not to be confused with a cakewalk though. There may be considerable pain for those that refuse to realign their energy.

    It seems it rarely works to fight against entrenched monstrous institutions, rather we simply build a better one, a more equitable, conscious one. The stores dont have reasonably priced organic food...we start growing our own locally. The banks lie cheat and steal...we dont use the banks and they collapse(Banks, per fractionalized banking schemes devised by the Fed Reserve, only have to keep 10% of what's on their books on hand liquid - can you imagine what would happen to BOA if everyone took their money out, what would happen to JP Morgan who is short $1.5T on silver if every American bought one pure oz. of silver?)...we dont use any more products that we dont care for, none that we dont need, dont watch tv, dont read "their" newspapers, etc.?

    Every thought is a choice, every purchase, every feeling, every place we put our attention. I really feel its a house of cards we are dealing with, but we just havent figured that out yet. that's definitely part of the game, the creation of the illusion that so much is broken, or impossible to change dont you think? We are buying into the disempowerment, the fear mongering, the constant putting up with silliness by ourselves and others.

    As soon as we can get past our fears its all going to change. its already shifting dramatically. Reference right now Tunisia, Ireland, Egypt, Greece, France, Poland, Yemen, Turkey, and the US for that matter. People are waking up to this crazy world we have all created. Although I would caution again on getting caught up in all the protesting (e.g. maybe even me writing to WFI) because it seems we are here to transcend all this fussing, and protesting, and being fearful, and rise to another level, a level where compassion and love reign, where we understand our connectedness.

    There will always be people to do the protesting, to hold picket signs, to throw rocks and such at the "oppressors (doesnt it take an oppressee for their to be an oppressor?) But some must hold that perfect space that allows creation of something much greater than fighting our fellow man. I have so much improvement to do in all of this but I am making some headway. Go to the light Tony...go to the light!

    What say ye?

    -t

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  8. T- First of all, those words are so smart. Second of all, I feel better having read them! It's so easy to get bogged down in the "injustice" of things. But I'm not accomplishing anything by feeling angry about and victimized by things. It helps to have refreshing reminders like this when I start to lose perspective. Thanks so much for your comments!

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