Whole Foods Launches Radical New Food Labeling Plan

Produce will be labeled 'good,' 'better' and 'best.'

Photo Credit: Ken Wolter/

If an avocado is labeled “better” and an apple is labeled “best,” are you going to change your evening guacamole making plans? This is an issue Whole Foods shoppers will soon have to consider.  The seemingly socially conscious supermarket chain announced today that it will begin ranking its produce either good, better,or best, based on the level of responsible growing practices its farmers use. In a way, it’s almost like checking a clothing label, to see what materials were used and where your new garment was made to ensure that fair labor practices were used.

Whole Foods’ ultimate title, “best,” will be reserved for pesticide-free products, while also taking into account elements like water and energy use necessary for growing the produce, the Associated Press reports. To achieve even a “good” rating, suppliers must take at least 16 steps to protect the air, soil, water and human health. But this does beg the question, why would Whole Foods sell products that don’t even qualify as “good”?

While many traditional supermarkets now have a separate organic section for produce and pre-processed foods, the major brands represented in these seemingly elite sections may not have any more positive environmental impact than a tomato farmer from Peru, who doesn’t use pesticides and uses natural irrigation, but cannot afford official USDA organic certification. Whole Foods is distinguishing itself from traditional supermarkets by bridging the gap between producer and consumer on the theory that customers deserve to know where their food comes from, and at what expense to the environment.

Over 400 Whole Foods stores will implement this system starting today, with additional information available via pamphlets and signs. The health-food chain has already implemented a similar system indicating its seafood sustainability conditions and animal welfare conditions for meat products. While many do not attribute non-organic bananas to animal suffering, there is the issue of pesticides harming farmers and eaters as well as the environment in which these chemically-treated bananas currently grow. 

Whole Foods new labeling practice could encourage grocery shoppers to think about the impact their meals have on the environment, though some consumers are already expressing skepticism about the arbitrary adjectives used to describe the produce.

Melissa Kravitz is a writer in New York City who writes about food and culture for First We Feast, Thrillist, Elite Daily, Edible, and other publications. 

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