Organic Farmers Question Whether Whole Foods’ new “Responsibly Grown” System is Truly Responsible

What's next for organic food?

Organic food is good for you, but are some sources better than others? Whole Foods, a USA grocery brand set out to determine that, and invited the wrath of many organic farmers. 

Good, better or best?

With their new rating system, “Responsibly Grown”, Whole Foods now assigns all kinds of foods (including non-organic products) with labels like ‘good’, ‘better’ and ‘best’. In order to categorise foods, Whole Foods measures a range of criteria such as soil health, waste management, farmworker welfare, pest management and water conservation.  
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Discontented organic farmers

While Whole Foods claims that this move will reward lesser known farmers and help customers to a great extent, several organic farmers disagree. In a letter to John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods, five organic farmers state that the new program is “onerous, expensive and shifts the cost of this marketing initiative to growers, many of whom are family-scale farmers with narrow profit margins.” The letter goes on to mention a concern that the program will cause a devaluation for organic foods. It provides the example of a photograph of a conventionally grown asparagus, rated as ‘Best’, competing with an organic asparagus labelled as ‘Good’ and concludes by asking “Which will most customers likely choose?” 

While the move may have been made in good faith, the farmers have some valid points and it remains to be seen how Whole Foods will correct the issues that “Responsibly Grown” has thrown up. 

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