Public Comment

How Organic is Whole Foods?

Harry Brill
Friday August 02, 2019 - 03:06:00 PM

Although Whole Foods carries more organic food than any other supermarket in the Bay Area, the majority of what it sells is non-organic products. Let's take a look at the Whole Foods store in Berkeley on Gilman. 


The Gilman store has a substantial number of bins for customers who like to eat a prepared meal at the store or to take the meal home. At the hot food section there are over 30 bins. Customers take as little or as much as they would like, and then pay according to the weight of their dish. Incredibly, almost none of the foods in these bins are organic. Please -- visit the store and see for yourself. 


Also at the Gilman store is a very large section of wines. Although the store carries some organic wines, over 90 percent of the wines the store displays are non-organic. The high prices of these wines suggest that they serve financially comfortable customers who prefer high quality wines. Of course, these wines are very profitable to Whole Foods. However, a wine that is both high quality and organic would be very costly to sell. Whole Foods would have to limit the markup to less than the standard markup of 33 percent. Instead the corporation's commitment to maximizing profits prevails over its interest in increasing the supply of organic wine. Moreover, Whole Foods has no interest in persuading customers to avoid wines that are drenched with dangerous pesticides. 

Generally speaking, it is very important to understand that large sections of the public who prefer organic food are not necessarily wedded to it. Unlike so called street crimes the adverse impact of consuming unhealthy foods are not immediate. The health problems they cause may not be experienced until many ysears later. This lack of immediate signals explains why people are generally not too concerned about the consequences of what they eat. So it should be incumbent on Whole Foods as well as similar supermarkets to educate the public on the potential risks of consuming foods laden with pesticides and other poisons.  


Whole Foods claims that it is carrying a wide array of products, labeled 365, that are very healthy to consume and are also affordable. According to Whole Foods the 365 labeled foods are either organic or natural. Actually, most are non-organic. The term " natural" is very appealing to the public. In a poll, over 60 percent of those who were surveyed preferred products that are labeled "natural".  


However, unlike food labeled organic, the public is unaware that there is no legal standard for foods defined as natural. FDA has not adopted any requirement that these foods meet a high health related standard. So it is not illegal for natural foods to contain antibiotics and growth hormones. Moreover, many foods that are labeled 365 are imported from China and other foreign countries where oversight is poor. It is a ruse, then, to tell the public that these foods are healthy and safe.

Of course the corporation's rhetoric costs much less than investing its resources in assuring high health food standards, including an organic requirement on most of what it sells. Probably the safest options for purchasing organic food are from farmer markets, which include mainly small farms. The giant supermarkets are not as reliable. Indeed, as the evidence confirms, big is not necessarily beautiful.