Here’s the not-so-fresh scoop: it seems that Whole Foods and some other major companies generally believed to be the “good guys” caved to Monsanto and the bad guys in a concerted move toward “coexistence.”  It started with Round-Up Ready alfalfa, but beneath the soil, a whole other stew of contamination was brewing. The shocking move was not so much a caving as a sly admission of a long-time coexistence.

Truth be told, Whole Foods has knowingly been selling GMO products for ages, hiding them under the “natural” label we’ve all recently come to scoff at. The world’s ethical supermarket, with prices built to bulge, has been duping its trusting customers. When it comes to meaningful labels, like GMO labels, Whole Foods has really been less than transparent or, more bluntly, has officially delayed the truth rather than demanding it now. Taking a closer look, it all seems to be a clever array of PR spins and stalling methods.

In 2013, Whole Foods set a five year deadline for GMO labels in all of its U.S. and Canadian outlets (by law, the seven stores in the U.K. already have GMO labels). According to the press release, in 2018, the stores will require that products containing GMOs be labeled as such. In the meantime, we can use non-GMO labels to aid our cause. Problem solved, right?

But, something still smells fishy.

Whole Foods Market and United Natural Foods fund Non-GMO Project, which provides labels to tell us when things do not contain GMOs. While this seems like a good alternative for consumers wanting to buy GMO-free products and a great way for companies to promote their avoidance of GMOs (good companies do benefit from the program), it has also created a smoke and mirrors way of Whole Foods avoiding actual GMO labels. Perhaps it even helps their sales a little.

Conveniently, on the same webpage explaining the store’s 2018 deadline, consumers are informed of Whole Foods’s own line — 365 Everyday Value — which went through the Non-GMO Project’s process starting way back in 2009. What’s more, Whole Foods offers “3,300 Non-GMO Project verified products from 250 brands, more than any other retailer in North America.” But, if the store sees value in offering non-GMO products, why not let consumers know which products do have GMOs so they can choose?

Perhaps it’s because two-thirds of Whole Foods’s products are “natural” as opposed to certified organic, and they are this way because certified organic entails that no GMOs were used. In other words, if you are in search of a GMO-free diet, more than half of Whole Foods’ healthy food may be a complete sham. That’s a serious blow for a store charging Whole Foods prices for representing Whole Foods ethics. While many consumers are now looking for organic choices, more are worried about GMOs.

If, as consumers, GMOs in our food is one of our biggest concerns, it would seem Whole Foods would do all it could to help us be GMO-free now as opposed to in five years. Unfortunately, doing so would make the shelves look much less impressive and damage the company’s reputation horribly. It makes more sense to delay the inevitable label as long as possible, perhaps reaping a little marketing edge through non-GMO labels and cleaning up their “natural” PR mess in the meantime.

At the front entrance, there is a five-year mandate requiring GMO labels for all GMO products in all Whole Foods branches in the next five years, and an NGO is working toward informing us about products without GMOs. Then, around back, the company is seeking a “true coexistence” with Monsanto, making concession deals with the USDA to go ahead with genetically modified alfalfa and commercialized genetically engineered crops.

The mission that Whole Foods proclaims is important for our health and the health of the whole world, which is why for years we’ve been paying them more for morally redeemable, safe products. But, has Whole Foods lost sight of its own words:

We’re seriously serious about quality around here. We carry natural and organic products because we believe that food in its purest state—unadulterated by artificial flavors, sweeteners, colorings and preservatives—is the best tasting and most nutritious food available.

Sure, we’ve got the whole hippies and health food thing covered, but we’re so much more! Being part of a community means being an active neighbor. And we believe true community transcends the boundaries of our towns and cities.

If this is the truth then why are we still accepting impure, GMO products, and why doesn’t the GMO battle transcend the walls of Whole Foods?

The idea was never to coexist with the monstrous Monsantos of the world but rather to shun them, to provide a service beyond what other supermarkets did. Make no mistake, a lot of good has come from Whole Foods and the Non-GMO Project, but if Whole Foods isn’t going to make the stance when it’s inconvenient, if we are stuck questioning the company’s motivation, then what’s the point of spending more money there?

Shopping can be morally and healthfully questionable for a lot less elsewhere.

 Image source: Spot On / Flickr