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You wanted GMO food labels? The marketplace is listening.

March 11, 2013|By Karin Klein
  • Genetically modified soybeans.
Genetically modified soybeans. (Scott Olson / Getty Images )

It’s a victory for the consumers who worry about genetically engineered foods -- also called GMO or genetically modified -- that Whole Foods will label all such foods in its markets. Well, at least it’s a long-term victory; the organic-foods chain will require the labels on all the foods it sells by 2018.

But in truth, this is also a victory for the forces that opposed Proposition 37, the failed initiative on the November ballot that would have required such labeling for almost all foods in all grocery stores: the companies that create the foods, such as Monsanto; the supermarkets that would have borne the legal liability; and the people who simply think there’s too much fear and suspicion of foods they consider to be safe.

The move by Whole Foods shows what The Times' editorial board believed: This is a matter that doesn’t require weighty regulations; it is easily handled by the free market. If there is a demand for foods whose DNA hasn’t been tinkered with in a laboratory, stores will provide it. Look at how the demand for organic foods -- which, by the way, cannot be genetically engineered -- created a fast-growing segment of the food industry. Once it was hard to find a store that carried organic products. Now it’s hard to find one that doesn’t.

If Whole Foods steals away market share by providing this information to its customers, other markets will follow, just as they followed Whole Foods and other stores on the organic front. Meanwhile, consumers already have ways of finding out which foods contain genetically engineered ingredients. Again, organic foods don’t, by definition. Trader Joe’s already has made it known that its house brands do not contain such ingredients. As for the rest, there are apps. It might take a little longer than a new regulation, but consumers' preference about how and where to spend money generally wins in the end.

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