Do consumers have a right to know whether GMOs are present in products even if research has never found dangers associated with them?

Whole Foods Market, long known to be a reformist, sustainability-oriented, supermarket chain selling natural products, startled the industry in early 2013 by announcing that it was embarking on a five-year plan to require labeling of genetically modified foods (GMFs) in its stores by 2018. Its decision came months after Proposition 37 in California was narrowly defeated in November 2012. Proposition 37 would have required disclosure labels on all foods that contained genetically engineered ingredients.

The Food and Drug Administration in the United States has found no research to support allegations that genetically engineered ingredients raise safety concerns greater than those found in traditionally grown products. And, the FDA has not issued any regulations requiring GMF labeling. The World Health Organization and the National Academy of Sciences have found no evidence that GMFs are unsafe. But, critics persist and say that there still may be some unknown harmful effects that in time will be revealed.

In the California battle, large mainstream companies such as Pepsico, Kraft Foods, Coca-Cola, Nestle, General Mills and Hershey opposed the labeling measure. Supporters included smaller, natural foods companies such as Stony field Farm, Annie’s, Clif Bar, Nature’s Path Foods, and Whole Foods. Opponents of GMO labelling fear that such labeling will cause many consumers to think their products containing GMOs are unsafe.

Whole Foods has taken the position that the consumer has a right to know how its foods were produced and whether GMOs are present in any of its foods. The company already has seven stores in the United Kingdom, which already require GMO labeling. In 2016, Whole Foods reported that it was well on the way to meeting its 2018 deadline. It reported 25,000 certified organic items and about 11,500 Non-GMO Project Verified products in its stores. The company also supports animal welfare, eco-friendliness, and sourcing origins.

1. Is the Whole Food’s decision a sustainable decision? Explain.

2. Do consumers have a right to know whether GMOs are present in products even if research has never found dangers associated with them?

3. Will GMO labeling unfairly raise fears among consumers that such foods are unsafe when research has shown them not to be?

4. Do you believe Whole Foods honestly thinks GMO labeling is ethically justified or is the company doing this as a strategic, marketing decision to promote its sustainability image and reputation?

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