GMO Food Dump: What Do You Think?

soy beans

Remember the GMO food dump idea from the Organic Consumers Association? The basic idea is to call out natural food stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s for having one opinion about GMOs on their blogs and in their marketing while stocking “natural” products that are chock full of GMO corn, soy, canola, and sugar.

After publishing the article, I got into a very interesting email exchange with a reader and Whole Foods team member, who we will just call Rebecca. She was emphatic that she is not a spokesperson for Whole Foods Market, just a team member who feels strongly about the food dump concept. I hope you’ll take some time to read her viewpoint and share your thoughts on the subject in our poll or in the comments!

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While I’m not sure I 100% agree with what she had to say, I really appreciated her taking the time to share her viewpoint and feel like she brought up some interesting things that were worth sharing with you guys. Here are some excerpts from our email exchange:

Just wanted to know, why are people trying to do food dumps at Whole Foods, a company that at least tries to get GMO’s off their shelves? Why aren’t you attacking the people who have made no effort at all and are silent on the issue, to the point of denying it exists? I’m by no means a spokesperson for the company (I’m just a bakery team member), but I can say this much: yes, some of our products contain GMO’s. But the vast majority don’t, and if we were to try to stock only non-GMO products, we’d lose any kind of bargain that we offer the customers on the products that were left.

I think the point about keeping prices down is interesting, as is the idea of reaching out to companies like Wal-Mart and Target about GMOs in their products. Here’s a bit of my reply:

The idea behind the GMO dump is that Whole Foods isn’t walking the talk. They speak out against GMOs but stock conventional products that contain GMO ingredients. However, I do agree that stores like the ones you mention have a much longer way to go and that we need to let these companies know how we feel as well. I’m not sure if a GMO dump would be as effective (would as many Wal-Mart shoppers be concerned about GMOs on the shelves?), but I’d definitely be open to doing a follow up with some ideas on how to get heard in stores like these!

And Rachel’s reply:

You’re absolutely right that Wal-Mart shoppers aren’t that worried about GMO’s, but don’t you think it’s redundant to make the point to Whole Foods customers then? Wouldn’t you rather educate the Wal-Mart shoppers? Personally, I see more benefit in getting the message out to the general public than to repeating information to a niche that already has some knowledge of the issue. Find new people to care about it, gain strength in numbers. I understand that it’s very difficult and very expensive for grassroots organizations to get a message out to the public, which is why I think that it would be better for Millions Against Monsanto to partner with Whole Foods than to protest against them – WFM has money that it does share with NPO’s, and Millions Against Monsanto has a cause that is completely within the framework of the Whole Foods mission.

I’m still not sure I agree that the food dump idea isn’t worthwhile, but I see what she’s saying here. She also explained that team members are educated about GMOs and questioned my idea that Whole Foods wasn’t walking the talk:

I disagree that Whole Foods isn’t walking the talk. I’ve been pounded with information about GMO’s since about an hour into my employment, and I think I already mentioned all the other ways that the corporation is vocal on the issue. It seems like, by your standards, for Whole Foods to be “walking the talk,” they’d have to stock only organic. But that isn’t a viable business model – the prices would be too high for the company to survive. And remember, as much as Whole Foods has a message, it’s also a business, not an NPO – the basic purpose of the store is to make money. It’s profit first, message second, like all businesses (well, businesses that have a message, anyway – the majority don’t, another credit to Whole Foods). Stocking organic-only would close down several of their departments (including mine – probably the bakery first and foremost!), and would turn away customers. So the very, very best that a corporation can do is to educate their customers and let the customers choose whether or not they care enough about GMO’s to choose organic, vegan, soy-free, corn-free, sugar-free, or generally non-GMO products. Whole Foods excels at doing that.

I totally understand running a business, since I run one myself. Sometimes you do have to make tough choices in order to still make a profit, but I think it’s an overstatement to say that cutting GMOs would shut down whole departments, like the bakery. Since not all non-organic foods are genetically modified, the store wouldn’t have to be all organic. The bakery, for example, wouldn’t have to use organic wheat (yet), and they could make sure to stick to cane sugar to avoid sugar from GMO sugar beets. They’d need to choose oils like sunflower and olive, since conventional canola oil is often genetically modified, and they could either skip the corn and soy or choose organic there. Would those changes really shut down the bakery department? I might be missing some key ingredients, since I don’t bake commercially.

While I don’t 100% agree with Rebecca, I do think she makes some good points. At least Whole Foods is making an effort, and stores like it make organic products and food education accessible to a lot more people, which is more than you can say for a Kroger or a Publix.

I’d love to hear what other folks think about the food dump concept, as well! Is it a misguided protest? Are you a fan of the concept and planning to organize one? Share your views in the comments and in our poll!

Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by kankan

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47 thoughts on “GMO Food Dump: What Do You Think?”

  1. Dear Friends,

    OCA is not calling on WFM, Trader Joe’s and natural food stores to drop all GMO-contaminated foods immediately, but rather to prominently label them as “Likely Produced with GMOs” so as to pressure their suppliers to get rid of GMO ingredients in all so-called “natural” products, just as they have already done with USDA Organic products. WFM knows full well that if they, and the rest of the industry put enough pressure on suppliers (including labeling their non-organic suppliers’ products with “GMO” stickers or shelf talkers) to stop sending them GMO-tainted foods, they will do so. Once WFM and the entire natural foods sector “Come Clean” on GMOs, OCA will happily take on the Bad Guys, Wal-Mart, Safeway, Krogers, McDonald’s etc. But until we can tell consumers where they can go to avoid GMOs (or at least find a store where they are honestly labeled), we will have little or no leverage on the so-called mainstream supermarkets.

    1. From the very beginning of the Millions Against Monsanto movement I knew it would only make Monsanto stronger. And I believe it has. A fight against Monsanto may rally the troops and get us excited but it will never produce the results we desire.

      What would work is “Millions for Mandatory GMO Labeling.” If OCA scrapped Millions Against Monsanto in favor of Millions for Mandatory GMO Labeling I know it would succeed. It is much more than a name. It describes the entire approach to the problem. It is the antagonistic approach that is resulting in the problem this blog post identifies – now the OCA is creating antagonistic relations with WFM, which should be its ally. Robbie I support what you’re doing and I hope you get this. My family has donated money and time to OCA. But now I feel it will fail unless there is a change in name and focus.


  2. I think that people should be less quick to throw stones. It is humorous that a blogger attacking Whole Foods for selling GMOs would allow her writing to appear on a website advertising Lowe’s (which sells RoundUp made by Monsanto) Kellog’s (which is by no means GMO free) and Finish detergent. I’m not criticizing the author here, I am merely pointing out that it is pretty easy for one to call someone out for not “walking the walk.”

    1. I hear ya. I wish we had more control over the ads in this space as well! If you know of a company more in line with our ethics that would like to advertise, please let me know! I’d be happy to chat with them.

    1. As mentioned in the post, the idea is not to toss the food but return it to the store. I am 100% with you on labeling, though! We as consumers have a right to know if our food contains GMOs.

      1. When you return food to WFM, if any of the packing is open, damaged in any way, shows sign of wear, is perishable, etc – it cannot be put back on the shelves/resold- it has to be thrown away for safety reasons.

        1. That makes sense. Maybe a good addendum to those instructions would be to only grab non-perishable food and make sure to take care of the packaging, so it can go back on the shelf?

  3. One criticism often made of the anti-GMO movement it that it seeks to alarm, not inform. Standing outside a store telling everyone ‘Oooh, big bad GMOs contaminating your food’ is clearly not designed to inform. I like how the OCA’s video tells people to get a hazmat suit or gas mask for ‘theatrical effect.’ Scaremongering weasels. Maybe instead of protesting they should crack a book and learn about what it is they’re protesting and why it is done.

    1. Again the ISSUE is about labeling gmo foods in stores that claim to be non gmo. Why not label gmos? Because 80% of the American people wouldn’t buy it! $$$ over everything, good old American way

  4. The U.S. population has historically placed a considerable degree of trust in the regulatory oversight provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its agencies. There is little tradition of people having a close relationship with their food, with the overwhelming majority of people having bought their food in supermarkets for years. But the 2003 survey by the Pew Research Center showed that even in the U.S., 55% see GM food as “bad” food. A 2010 survey found that over one third of U.S. consumers were very or extremely concerned about GM food, a 3% reduction from 2008.

  5. I love Whole Foods and spend a significant amount of money there. However, a company with their clout in the organic and non-gmo field paradoxically serves as enablers to the gmo industry when corporate management makes a public statement that organic will just have to co-exist with gmo. That statement sucked a lot of energy out of the momentum of the anti-gmo progress that was being made. It was defeatist at a critical time when the USDA was at least halting the approvals of gm alfalfa and sugar beets. Where is their public statement re a preference for non-gmo? At this point, the least they could do is kabel the gm foods. Labeling the foods that contain gmo would expand the conversation significantly when customers are asked by friends and family why they shop at Whole Foods. WH customers would themselves have an impetus to learn more about the differences if they don’t now know.

  6. What’s this about the “Trader Joe’s” in “natural food stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joeโ€™s”?

    Trader Joe’s is NOT a natural food store. It’s a profit-making machine that sells SOME “natural” products. Most of their prepared food products are frankly quite unhealthy. (As are the working conditions of their “crew members” and of the people who pick the fruit and veggies that Tj’S sells).

  7. OCA might as well dump GM foods at every natural food store in the United States. There isn’t one that doesn’t sell foods containing GM ingredients. Even the ones who try to remove GM foods find it difficult to do; some vitamins, including Bs, are made using genetic engineering.
    Targeting Whole Foods is a good example of the circular firing squad of infighting in the organic movement that is destructive.
    OCA should have targeted Safeway or other major supermarket chains. At least Whole Foods is doing something about GMOs; all their brand products are being non-GMO verified. Trader Joe’s has also had a non-GMO commitment.

    1. Bravo. You know, reading some of the comments makes me think they actually WANT WFs & TJs to go out of business. Heck,, they offer more non-GMOs than most. It makes one curious.

  8. May 20, 2011
    @ Scott M.:
    Millions Against Monsanto has name recognition for over a decade and we should never drop it. If you read Organic Consumers’s articles, you’ll see Monsanto is the whole reason we are 18 years into this GE food mess nationwide, with unlabeled GE ( Genetically Engineered Food ) everywhere with complete government collusion.

  9. I think that it is fine to call these markets who specialize in organic and non-GMO foods. The reason many people shop at these markets are to avoid buying and ingesting GMOs. To sell yourself as a “whole” foods market, or “organic” market and then sneak these GMOs onto the shelves to keep prices competitive is just wrong. Who can we trust as consumers? We need things to be properly labeled, so we can make our own choices as to what we purchase and put into our bodies. A huge chain like Whole Foods needs to use it’s considerable clout to make this happen with food producers. Or, even do it themselves (put GMO stickers on anything likely to be made with GMO products). I agree that this will either get producers to change or it will show what actually sells in the free market place.

    1. It’s not the responsibility of WFs, TJs, or any other vendor to dictate what you purchase from their store. Hopefully everyone that shops there can read the labels. They do, however, offer a wider range of non-GMO/organic products than any grocery stores I’ve known in the past few years. I’m happy to have the option to enter a store that I actually have a CHOICE (I read my labels).

  10. I think the food dump ideas are worthless. I don’t believe the majority of shoppers at Wf think that the food there are GMO free. I think a better plan would be to pick a brand each week and innundate them with emails and letters stating that you will no longer buy their products until they are GMO free. I think it is better to send a message directly to them instead of the stores that sell their brands. I also think it is my job to educate myself, not the stores I shop at.

    1. I really, really dig the idea of organizing campaigns that target specific brands on a sort of rolling basis! I need to mull it over, but this seems like it would be not too hard to organize!

    2. I won’t trust WFM, et al, until I know that they are labeling food that is likely contaminated. they are making money hand over fist from supposedly “natural” foods, and they rely on the margin that these products produce, since there is generally less markup in actual certified organic foods, so I don’t think the food dumps are useless. But I do like your idea about going directly to the companies en masse! the difficulty in such a campaign, however, is that many so called “natural foods” are names only, marketed to those of us who think that we’re not buying Post, or Kellogg, or PepsiCo, or ConAgra, etc. These corporations excel at buying up small, trusted brands, quietly changing their formulations to be in line with their SOP, and marketing them as if ownership (and therefore, values) had never changed hands.

  11. Not sure WFS are even trying to walk the walk…Our trip to the San Fran store was specifically so we could eat a non-GMO hot food and take it back to the hotel…safe food or so we thought until we read every ingredient 95% of the food bar is being made with canola oil. Hubbie asked them why on their website and ….silence. I called a store and was promised a call back…again silence. Don’t you think they could start easily enough in their own food production to get rid of GMO food items..or at least respond as to their reasoning why> WHOLE FOODS NOT SO WHOLLY in our opinion!

  12. First, great article Ronnie! Second, I think you both kind of missed the main point of the discussion. It’s not about WFM eliminating every bit of potential GMO product or attacking a business model, it’s about being truthful in their advertising. I don’t have any problem with GMO products being on the shelves, I just want to be able to choose non-GMO products. The only way that i possible is if the consumer is informed about the possibility of GMO. We all read labels but it’s disingenuous at best to call something “Natural” when there is a good chance that there is GMO material in the product.

    All we want is a fair chance to look at a label and know that we are buying a non-GMO product. If other people don’t care and it helps your business model that’s fine but we should still have the right to know what we are eating!

    Thanks again for all your hard work!

  13. The agchem industry with the assistance of the US government does not play fair. In fact, their tactics are downright dishonest and a trail of fabrications. As consumers and a belief in knowing what we eat, it is our right and obligation to raise a big, but legal, ruckus that we can.

  14. There are no Trader Joes or WFM in my area, only co-op store/deli and whatever ‘organic’ products Kroger carries. I’m very limited in my options and still learning about the organic/non-GMO ‘world’. I pay hand over fist more money for the prodycts I buy, especially at the co-op, than I would off mainstream products. I’m ok w/ this b/c I care about QUALITY. I feel VERY strongly AGAINST GMO’s and it’s my ‘understanding’ that by shopping the co-op or chosing products w/ an ‘organic stamp’ on it that GMO’s are one of many things I’m avoiding by chosing these products. Personally, I’m going to be infuriated if I look a little closer and find out I’ve been decieved about GMO’s. I can understand the point about keeping the costs down on other things, etc (maybe) but there are no excuses for deception. I would still shop my co-op, etc, if the store said, “We warn against GMO’s and try not to carry these products, however there are some that contain GMO’s”. If they even had a ‘section’ or had it marked somehow that it was clear ….When I feel deceived I stop trusting the source. In some cases, I may even choose a GMO product, situation depending, but I want to know that I am making that choice.

    1. You nailed it on the head on every issue i feel strongly about. I shop at whole foods regularly and closely review labels, and HOPE that i can trust them. Tonight, i asked the preped food girl if the soy beans in the edamame salad were modified. She responded very robotically “WF does not carry GMO’s” i go, “aren’t they ALL modified”, she said “off the record, what i understand is that soybeans have to be modified to be digested by humans. True or not, she could not confirm, but only said ‘this is what i was told in training’.

      bottom line, im glad whole foods exists, i can at least get SOME great products there. I agree, however, that they need to have a “GMO” section, just as the typical grocery store has the “ORGANIC” section.

      It’s totally frustrating to not trust the food that is being sold to you. I’m not sure a food dump is going to resolve anything at all. It just produces waste. I feel signs or a picket line could be equally effective. why deface property?

      1. the food dump doesn’t “waste” the food products. they are purchased, ceremoniously “dumped”, and then returned to the store. I hope it’s effective and that it pressures WFM to label foods that are possibly contaminated with GMO’s. until then, I will not wholly trust Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Marlene’s, etc.

        1. Thanks, Laura! I wonder if the name “Food Dump” is a little bit confusing. It does sound like you’re supposed to toss the food, though they recommend returning it instead.

  15. I grew up believing that there are “starving children in Africa” and that food wast is a sin. The food dump has great shock value, but like PETA’s prurient vivisection photos, may just turn people completely off.

    I actually think the discussion is deeply mis-guided. I LIKE Millions Against Monsanto because THAT is the real issue. Many farmers and botanists will tell you that a lot of GMO’s aren’t too different from regular hybrids. I disagree in the case of cross-kingdom (plant, jellyfish).

    But more important to me is education, transparency, and mostly OWNERSHIP! Monsanto has control because of patents. And because they don’t allow seed saving. If they (intentionally or accidentally) put something dangerous in our
    food, and it was all we had to eat we’d be trapped!

    There’s an expression “He who feeds the dog, owns the dog.” I am not a dog, I do not want to be owned.

  16. I don’t understand the debate. Monsanto’s core business is GMO’s. Monsanto owns WholeFoods. Why in the world do people expect WholeFood’s to go against their mother company? Of course they are going to stock GMO’s. And this double talk we are getting is just the corporate way. Understand, regardless of what Whole Foods, or anyone associated, says ANY money spent with Whole Foods ultimately benefits Monsanto and their core business. Period.

    1. What on Earth are you talking about? Monsanto has NO ownership of Whole Foods. NONE. Whole Foods is a public company – and Monsanto, as an organization, does not even own one share of Whole Foods stock. I am a financial professional and have access to this type of information, and I have verified this. What a crazy statement to make.

  17. this would be a legitimate protest had they picked a dominick’s or jewel osco. but the largest distributor of organic foods in the country? whose ceo doesn’t even pay himself from the store’s income? a store that started the non-gmo project?this is not surprising coming from the OCA, a rockefeller/merck funded front used to give a bad reputation to the distributors of organic foods who supply the most organic food.

    whole foods is on the nasdaq, so it’s a little hard to get every one of their customers nationwide to buy all organics(organics contain no gmo’s). artificial scarcity leads to higher prices in this case, and the poor have been victimized, but a lot of the time the poor at least still want to support a store selling organics to those who can afford them, so they shop at whole foods, which has banned high fructose corn syrup and artificial colors and flavorings from their store. so, the poor know they can at least get that while supporting a legitimate organic foods distributor that is probably our best bet at changing the path of american agriculture. we need something at least as big as whole foods to counter the agricultural and nutritional devastation of genetic engineering and the bio tech industry.

  18. WFM is not walking their talk. I shop at two of their grocery stores; have been told numerous times that “Oh, you never need to worry about GMO’s at Whole Foods.” I recently hand carried OCA’s articles about this issue into my WFMs and handed them to a worker asking that they stop their misinformation because there are products that we need to worry about EVERYWHERE. Personally, I rarely purchase processed foods. It is far easier and SAFER to purchase whole organic food (when I am able) and broil, steam, or bake our own meals. But, importantly, I do not want to be told I can TRUST a store and then find out that, in fact, I CANNOT trust them. My health is much more important than any grocery stores’ “mantra.”

  19. Corn and soy ‘the fossil fuels governed with tax dollars’ are in everything. Organic food can still be factory farmed, many field of produce lie in the middle of pesticide ridden fields owned by the same company, organic foods contain lower PPM doses of chemical fertalizer as winds carry seeds, and fertalizer being sprayed in proximity. Intensive factory farmed animals have their place in the ‘organic’ circle as well, they just have a different diet, however their living conditions are the same as a feedlot, the farmers get around it by saying yes these turkeys ‘have access to pasture’ (the only ethical policy) However what most dont divulge is that 6 weeks of say a chickens life is indoor due to them not wanting them to be exposed to illnesses, then the little door opens and those that arent petrified of outdoors can wander outisde for a couple hours for a total of 2 weeks, then off to slaughter at 8 weeks…But they are not fed corn so they are ‘organic’

    My advice to everyone would be to practice the 100 mile diet as I do, grow food, eat ‘sustainable’ food from local growers rather than what has become the new trend on ‘organic’. Surprisingly shipping organic food across the country to appease the organic consumer cost 57 fossil fuel calories / calorie of food… disheartening but true. As a matter of fact, every person in North America should go to their library and read the book called ‘the omnivores dilemma’.

  20. The WFM worker saying it’s “redundant to keep making the point to WF shoppers” is ignoring the obvious. It is exactly BECAUSE they are educated about this GMO inundation in processed foods that they are expecting AND BELIEVING the scam at Whole Foods. They are being DELIBERATELY MIS-LED by WFM’s careful and glossy marketing messages, which do not outright declare there IS NO GMO IN THE “NATURAL” FOOD, but also don’t declare it MADE WITH GMOS, either. Educating the other shoppers, such as big chain stores and Walmart, is a completely different issue. WFM has rolled over to the bullying of BigAg and they know it. Bottom line, profit comes first. Americans spend less of their paycheck on food than any other nation on Earth, and we still market the very sustanence of life with appeals to “saving money” and “getting a deal” Where are our priorities?

    1. WRONG! WF has their GMO project and clearly states that only those products are guaranteed GMO-free. (USDA Organics, not withstanding…) I am SO tired of the nanny-state mentality that people have about this and a host of other issues. It is absolutely the consumers responsibility to be informed and know what they are purchasing. This is the same mentality that applies to food allergies…CALL the manufacturer to find out what ingredients are used, what the manufacturing processes are, and if there is a possibility of cross-contamination with anything you may find offensive! We shop WF at least once a week. I avoid as many GMO’s as possible, but at times will purchase a product that contains GMO’s as long as they are not corn or soy, which are the worst offenders based on my research. I buy mostly organic, and some non-organics that I have researched extensively. Hardly anyone can afford to strictly buy organic, if they feed more than 2 people. Many companies practice organic farming methods and use organic ingredients, but do not have the costly certification. And as for “organic” products…the FDA allows Horizon (among others) to put non-organic ingredients into their prodicts, and turns a blind eye to their farming methods! Like I said…up to the consumer to be informed.(Use the brain that God gave you.) I don’t take ANYONE’s word for it. And I can’t stand all of the inflamatory hooplah.

  21. What comes to my mind is divide and conquer.
    I work for PCC Natural Markets as a buyer and I can say first hand that the problem is not the store trying to mislead customers, it is a problem with supply. We are currently in process of switching all of our health and beauty products to meet the Natural Products Association guidelines. The problems we are encountering are in finding companies that produce the products that meet these guidelines, and also the opposition from customers who have used a toxic product for decades and are not ready to switch to something better. It is a huge and tedious effort. If OCA spends their time protesting at natural foods stores customers might get the impression they might as well shop at Wal-Mart. We are shooting ourselves in the foot.
    We must remember we are on the same team. Natural food stores do not want to sell GMOs. When products that are GMO free become available we offer them. I think OCA’s donations would be better spent opening small businesses that produce the products that we want on the shelves. I support OCA’s intentions but I think time would be better spent protesting the distributers that sell to the stores or the individual companies making the GMO products.

  22. I only started learning about GMOs within the past year. I am a regular shopper at WFM because I want to avoid pesticides. I don’t buy organic everything, only the “dirty dozen”. I have learned to read my labels and avoid anything with non-organic corn, cotton, soy or canola. I have signed up with Jeffrey Smith’s Tipping Point Network to EDUCATE CONSUMERS on how to read labels. I also regularly write to manufacturers (Pepsi, M&M Mars, Kelloggs) asking if their product contains GMOs and then after they answer that they probably do (because they cannot guarantee it) I write to them that I will no longer purchase their product. I believe this is where the focus needs to be while we also work on our Legislators to pass GMO Labeling (Denis Kuchinich has introduced the bills into legislation so let’s put the pressure on to get them passed!!) I agree with one of the other commentors that dressing up in hazmat suits and doing a food dump is viewed by most people as “extremeists” and to quote an old saying “you get more flies with honey”.

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