Whole Foods Market Inc. will identify its private-label products as containing no genetically modified organisms, the company said.
The initiative was announced at Whole Foods' annual shareholders' meeting April 4 in New York.
A coalition of six socially responsible investment firms had placed on the annual meeting proxy ballot a motion to require Whole Foods to label GMOs in the house-branded products it sells. The firms, which together own $21 million in Whole Foods shares, said adding the label statement would leverage Whole Foods' clout with both manufacturers and consumers to raise awareness of the issue.
Beth Williamson, a shareholder advocate with Green Century Capital Management in Boston, said this year's ballot measure was a rehash of an initiative originally brought to Whole Foods' shareholders in 2002 by Trillium Asset Management. After that measure failed to win approval, Whole Foods agreed informally to source "GE-avoidant" ingredients and tag its private-label products accordingly, but did not follow through, she said.
While this week's proxy measure failed, Whole Foods Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John Mackey said the company intends to move forward on a review of the ingredients in its private-label products. Mackey did not give a timeline for the changes.
"He was very adamant that this was something his leadership team had decided on," said Williamson, who said she talked to Mackey after the meeting.
Whole Foods does not give interviews to the trade press.
But the supermarket's Web site said, "Our goal at Whole Foods Market is for all our own company branded products to be created from non-genetically engineered ingredients and processes. ? Whole Foods Market will label any Whole Foods Market branded products that are verified to be created only from non-genetically engineered ingredients and processes."
Whole Foods brand certified organic products, which must be GMO-free to earn certification, will all be labeled as non-GMO, the company said.
Another Texas grocer, H-E-B's Central Market, has begun labeling its house-brand products as GE-free, Williamson said.