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Natural Foods Merchandiser

Whole Foods Market partners with Non-GMO Project

Whole Foods Market today announced a partnership with the Non-GMO Project to use the nonprofit's Product Verification Program to provide further testing of the retailer's private label products, both organic and natural, in an effort to determine whether a product has met standards connected to the presence of genetically modified organisms.

"From the moment GMOs were approved for use in the U.S., we recognized the need for transparency," Margaret Wittenberg, Whole Foods Market global vice president of quality standards, said in a statement released today. "We searched … for a way to do this and now, thankfully, the Non-GMO Project has answered that challenge by creating a standard and practical system by which manufacturers may measure their products."

The Non-GMO PVP is the nation's first system that scientifically tests whether a product has met a set of defined standards for the presence of GMOs.

Megan Thompson, executive director of Non-GMO Project, said the verification program is fairly new. Created last fall, Whole Foods enrolled some of its products to ensure the project worked and was cost effective. Now, Whole Foods is ready to enroll its entire private label line of products, and Thompson said the partnership will help consumers make educated choices and encourage other retailers to follow Whole Foods' lead.

"It's huge because in order to implement best practices for GMO avoidance, the only way is to implement it industry-wide," she said. "The GMO project allows everyone to be on the same page. Whole Foods' reach is so wide that now we'll start to see significant change in providing best practices for GMO avoidance. We are currently in conversations with a couple of other private-label retailers, and so you should see more announcements soon."

Federal law already requires organic producers to comply with certain non-genetically-engineered requirements identified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but there is no standard for labeling GMOs in non-organic products, and about 75 percent of U.S. processed food possibly contains elements from genetically modified crops, according to the FDA.

The PVP can test organic, natural and conventional products. While commercially grown, genetically engineered crops are limited to about seven crops, they include produce like soy and corn, which have the ability to show up in many ingredients.

The PVP assessment combines on-site facility audits, document-based reviews and DNA testing. Thompson said it's important to have the ability to test down the supply chain and doing so will allow Whole Foods to take the labeling of its private-label products to a higher level.

"It sends the message that they support the consumer's right to have informed choices, and a lot of Whole Foods shoppers are concerned about that ability to choose," she said.

Once a product has been approved through the PVP, it can be described as being verified by the Non-GMO project and be labeled with the Project's compliance seal. Whole Foods Market is expected to roll out its private label products with the new seal in stores before the end of the year.

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