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Whole Foods Will Require GMO Labels

According to a number of sources (such as this one), Whole Foods will, beginning in 2018, require labels on foods in their stores that contain GMOs.  

I wrote several several editorials arguing against the mandatory labeling initiative (Prop 37) in California in places like the Wall Street Journal, Forbes.com, Foxnews.com, and the Huffington Post.  As such, you might expect me to to come out against Whole Foods new policy.  You'd be wrong (well, at least not entirely right).    

What's the difference between the Whole Foods policy and Prop 37?  Whole Foods is a private company.  They can shelve whatever products they want and require their suppliers to meet whatever specifications they set.  You and I don't have to shop there.  Moreover, Frito-Lay doesn't have to supply Whole Foods if they so choose.  By contrast, Prop 37 was a mandate that required adherence from everyone no matter where you shopped, who you supplied, or whether it created 1 cent or $1 billion in extra cost.  

I personally couldn't give a rip whether the foods I eat contain GMOs.  I also think it is a tad misleading to add claims or labels that imply safety risks when there are virtually none.  But, if we are going live in a free society, I suppose GoDaddy.com using Danica Patrick to sell domain names is little different than Whole Foods pursing their own marketing strategy using somewhat tangential claims.  And, if Whole Foods wants to add labels to apples that say things like "Does not cause Tuberculosis" or "Contains H2O", that's their prerogative even though I personally think it would be stupid.     

Whole Foods has probably made the calculation that requiring GMO labels will help them pick up some additional market share at a cost that they and (by implication) their customers are willing to pay.  They may lose a few suppliers, and it is possible that they may add a bunch of extra costs to inform consumers of a technology that many ultimately find innocuousness.  They may tarnish their image by appearing "anti-science."  

I'm sure that they have thought about these issues and much more, and they're betting that the label requirement will ultimately add more to their bottom line. (If you agree, you can buy their stock - WFM - though I'll note that it was down 1.2% on Friday when the news was released; they also had a 10% drop back in mid February amid lower than expected sales).  That's their bet to make.  If it pays off, they'll make millions.  If they're wrong, I can still shop at Wal Mart or Safeway or Albertsons or any number of other places.  Oh yes, and Whole Foods can always change their mind if things don't work out.

So what it is that makes Whole Food's decision different than Prop 37?  Competition.  Reversibility.  And, the undeniable bottom-line that no political agenda can long ignore.