Not so natural: Whole Foods faces consumer backlash for selling GMO sweet corn

By Ken Roseboro

Published: September 7, 2023

Category: GMO News

Campaign urges natural food retailer to stop selling GMO sweet corn

Whole Foods Market is facing increasing criticism by consumer advocates for selling genetically engineered sweet corn in many of its stores in the U.S. Toxin Free USA, a nonprofit dedicated to consumer protection and education, is spearheading a campaign urging the natural food retailer to stop selling the GMO corn.

Whole Foods’ customers have spotted the GMO sweet corn in the produce section in the company’s stores in Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, Virginia, Texas, Washington state, and Washington DC. The GMO White and Bi-Color Corn are in bins with signs saying: “Bioengineered Food” in small print. “Bioengineered” is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s preferred term for labeling GMO foods.

Former Whole Foods global grocery manager and current food industry consultant Errol Schweizer wonders why Whole Foods couldn’t have sold organic sweet corn instead.

“Why did they feel the need to sell a cheap conventional corn as opposed to having national distribution of organic? There lot of growers around the country who are growing organic sweetcorn.”

An email to Whole Foods to get their perspective about the controversy was never returned.

The GMO sweet corn was developed by Monsanto (now owned by Bayer). The GMO sweet corn is genetically engineered to tolerate controversial glyphosate and glufosinate herbicides and contains genes from the Bacillus thuringiensis or Bt bacterium that is toxic to insects.

GMO proponents claim that the GMO Bt insecticides in the sweet corn are safe to consume. But several studies have found that GMO Bt corn has negative health and environmental impacts. A 2012 published study found that rats fed GMO Bt corn and glyphosate herbicide suffered premature deaths, tumors, and internal organ damage. A recent study published in Crop Protection found that Bt corn killed beneficial wasps that are used for insect control in agricultural systems.

Schweizer doesn’t see Whole Foods as committed to organics as when he worked there, especially since Amazon purchased the company in 2017.

“It’s less of a priority for organic and sustainability in the old Whole Foods’ sense,” Schweizer says. “Amazon doesn’t care about those kinds of things.”

Whole Foods is selling GMO sweet corn in some of its stores.

Whole Foods is selling GMO sweet corn in some of its stores.

The only positive Schweizer sees is that Whole Foods has labeled the GMO sweet corn as “bioengineered” so consumers know what they are getting.

“They’re doing what they committed to do which is labeling based on federal guidelines,” Schweizer says, referring to Whole Foods 2013 commitment to label all GMO foods sold in their stores.

But the Non-GMO Project criticized Whole Foods for using the “bioengineered” term, saying in a statement that the term is unfamiliar to many people. The project also said Whole Foods is compromising its reputation for selling the GMO sweet corn.

“Putting toxic, environmentally damaging GMO corn on a pedestal is a slap in the face of Whole Foods’ customers. Greenwashing is the only word that can describe the company’s actions. We expect better from the company,” said Luan Van Le, Toxin Free USA Communications Director.

Carl Jorgensen, an agri-food industry advisor, said it was a “major disappointment” to find the “bioengineered” sweetcorn in his local Whole Foods store.

“For many years my family and I have relied on Whole Foods to provide us with foods that meet higher standards than conventional supermarkets, protecting us from chemicals, highly processed ingredients and genetically engineered foods. What happened to the Whole Foods non-GMO promise?” he asks.

Despite the consumer outrage, Schweizer doesn’t expect Whole Foods to stop selling the GMO sweet corn.

“I don’t think outrage will change that,” he says. “They’ll just say: ‘You can shop elsewhere.’”

© Copyright The Organic & Non-GMO Report, 2023

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