(Health Secrets) If you have learned the dangers of pesticides, chemicals and hormones in food, you’re probably shopping at Whole Foods Markets or excitedly waiting for a Whole Foods store to open near you. This is because Whole Foods has made an implied agreement with us that the food they sell is largely organic, locally grown and free of anything that would harm us. We enjoy their stores, where we can revel in nature’s bounty free of worry, and enjoy righteous culinary delights. We take home whatever appeals to us because we’re sure it’s also good for us. But a closer look suggests it may be time to take off the rose colored glasses.
How Whole Foods got to be the only game in town
Whole Foods dominates the “healthy foods” market because it destroyed its competition. The last to go was Wild Oats, a smaller chain that truly kept the customer’s best interests at heart. Whole Foods CEO John Mackey first made a bid to acquire Wild Oats in 2001, but was rebuffed. For the following six years, Mackey engaged in the bizarre practice of posting daily on the Yahoo message board for Wild Oats’ stock under a false name. In these posts he belittled Wild Oats on a continuous basis, without disclosing who he was. In a post written in March of 2006, Mackey posted under his pseudonym, “Whole Foods says they will open 25 stores in OATS territories in the next 2 years. The end game is now underway for OATs…Whole Foods is systematically destroying their viability as a business – market by market, city by city.”
These posts were designed to keep down the price of Wild Oats’ stock. The lower the Wild Oats stock price, the less Whole Foods would have to offer when it made its second bid for the company in 2007. Mackey’s efforts to hold down the price of Wild Oats helped create pressure by Wild Oats’ shareholders to accept the depressed bid when it was finally made.
This sort of conventional commitment to the bottom line is in stark contrast to the feel-good, healthy vibes pumped out by the Whole Foods publicity department, and it smacks of the behavior of traditional corporate scoundrels. Nevertheless, it worked quite well. Whole Foods bought Wild Oats in 2007 and promptly closed all Wild Oats stores, creating a monopoly in “health food” sales.
Image vs. Reality
Mackey along with now Co-CEO Water Robb has had great success marketing Whole Foods to the typical affluent, well-educated shopper seeking organic food. This is a lifestyle customer who needs to feel that he or she is contributing to the betterment of himself, mankind and the environment.
But it is harder than ever to make the case that shopping at Whole Foods is socially commendable. Whole Foods has faced well-deserved criticism for its effect on the environment and on its employees. In Michael Pollan’s bestseller The Omnivore’s Dilemma, he describes Whole Foods as an “industrial organic” company that has done away with the counter-cuisine and local distribution that were the center of the 1960’s back-to-nature movement. As Pollan points out, there is nothing environmentally friendly or health conscious about Whole Foods’ practice of flying in asparagus from Argentina in January, for example.
Perhaps the most telling indictment of the division between image and reality at Whole Foods came in an ABC 7 I-team investigation report that aired a couple of years ago and pointed out efforts by the chain to mislead customers. In violation of their image as purveyor of locally grown food, much of what Whole Foods sells as organic is imported from China. Frozen spinach, sugar snap peas, California Blend (carrots, cauliflower and broccoli) and much more, all selling under the Whole Foods 365 Organic label, come from China, but you have to flip the package over and read the small print to find this out.
The word organic is supposed to assure no use of overly harmful pesticides and environmentally friendly growing conditions, at least in the U.S. But what does that word mean in China? Food grown as organic in the U.S. must be approved by the USDA before it can be labeled organic, but food from China does not have this level of supervision.
The USDA does not inspect food from China. Private inspectors are certified to do that. Whole Foods uses a company called Quality Assurance International (QAI) to certify some products, but QAI confirmed to the ABC reporters that it has not certified any food from China. Yet the QAI seal along with the USDA seal and the words Product of China appear together on produce sold at Whole Foods. There is no way to know if any rules governing the labeling of the food were followed.
Linda Greer, a senior scientist at the Natural Research Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, has been to farms in China. During the ABC broadcast, she states that she would not buy anything labeled organic from China with the idea that it was truly organic, because there has been tremendous difficulty with tracking.
It is no accident that Product of China is in such small type on Whole Foods packaging, according to Greer. She sees this as an attempt to mislead customers and points out that if Whole Foods were proud of its products coming from China, the words would be prominently displayed on the front of the bags.
There is growing concern about the quality of food from China. Recently the FDA, charged with checking for food safety, has stopped 260 shipments of foods from China, such as strawberries contaminated with pesticides, bacteria and filth. In an internal company document from Whole Foods (marked Do Not Distribute), the country of origin for hundreds of organic products ranging from asparagus to pine nuts to creamy peanut butter is listed as China.
Whole Foods shoppers need to ask how they can know that any standards whatsoever have been met in products that comes from China. Greer sees consumers as blissfully unaware that the government is not protecting them and that Whole Foods is exploiting them.
Whole Foods has responded to criticism by initiating programs to fund low-interest loans to local farmers, and put farmer’s market space in the parking lots of a few of its stores. But follow-through on these initiatives has been minimal.
Again, as one tours the produce section in Whole Foods stores, there is the perception that image and reality are quite different. Fruits and vegetables are heaped in impressive displays, but most of them have tags declaring their point of origin, and these points are many places in the world but with the exception of a few from California, virtually none are from the U.S., no matter where the store is located, and no matter what the season.
Labor unions have also been upset with Mackey. Although the image of the stores is abundance, bounty and the good life, Whole Foods is the second largest union-free food retailer, right behind Wal-Mart. Whole Foods has taken the position that unions are not valid, and has a pamphlet to give workers titled Beyond Unions.
Quality standards at Whole Foods
According to the Quality Standards page of the store’s website, Whole Foods features products that are natural, meaning “free of artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, and hydrogenated oils.” They claim commitment to foods that are fresh, wholesome and safe to eat. This is the extent of the quality pledge the chain makes to its customers. It does not claim that all the foods it sells are organic or free of everything troublesome. In fact, much of what it sells is not organic, and many products contain genetically modified ingredients (GMOs).
The quality standard for produce is “colorful and lovingly stacked.” Clearly Whole Foods shines its variety of fruits and vegetables that have come a long distance from large corporate farms such as those in Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala, in addition to China. But unless what you are buying is clearly labeled as organic, there is no way to know whether the item is genetically modified. GMO foods are just as likely to appear at Whole Foods as they are at any conventional grocery store.
Whole Foods conventional produce is grown under the same conditions as produce sold at any other supermarket. This means it may be grown in depleted soil, fertilized with chemical fertilizers and sprayed with deadly pesticides. And remember that other countries do not have the level of laws restricting the use of extremely toxic pesticides on produce that are in force in the U.S. Pesticide is expensive, and growers tend to use the most cost effective pesticides rather than the least harmful to people.
At Whole Foods, conventionally grown produce that may be GMO is stacked side by side with the organic produce, and the price is very similar. If you are shopping for organic produce and don’t want to pay a premium price for what you could just as easily buy at a lower cost grocer, you must look carefully for the organic label. If the item or product is not clearly labeled as organic, it is not organic.
There is an extensive Unacceptable Food Ingredients list posted on Whole Foods’ website, and the impression is that these ingredients are not found in any products sold at Whole Foods. Notably missing from this list is mention of recombant bovine growth hormone, and propylene glycol (an ingredient used in antifreeze) that has been found in the cranberry cheddar so heavily promoted during the holiday season at Whole Foods.
The quality standard for meat and poultry is “best tasting, freshest and most wholesome, naturally raised meat available.” There is no promise that Whole Foods’ meat and poultry is free range, vegetarian fed, hormone free, pastured or organic, although the chain does carry some meats labeled as organic. You have to look carefully or ask what you are really getting.
The words natural or naturally are completely meaningless because there is no criteria or industrial standard for their use.
Grocery items including cleaning products, pet foods, dairy and bulk are held to this meaningless standard of being “natural.” The contents of many of the grocery items are identical with what is found at conventional supermarkets but sell at much higher prices at Whole Foods. With the exception of some of the products from Eden foods, all canned goods are in cans containing bisphenol-A, just like at conventional grocery stores. Bisphenol-A is a powerful endocrine disrupter that has been banned in several countries.
Many of the canned or boxed items such as soups, chili, stews, gravies, and prepared frozen or boxed entrees and meals contain monosodium glutamate (MSG), a potent neurotoxin, although it is on Whole Foods’ list of unacceptable food ingredients. Because MSG is so common in formulations, you can suspect its presence in large numbers of bagged, bottled, frozen or canned foods at all stores including Whole Foods, but it is often hidden under another name. When you see any of these ingredients, the product contains MSG:
*Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein
*Autolyzed Vegetable Protein
*Textured Vegetable Protein
*Vegetable Protein Extract
*Autolyzed Yeast Extract
*Textured Whey Protein
There are many other food ingredients that may also denote the presence of MSG. But none of these names for hidden MSG appear on the Whole Foods unacceptable food ingredients’ page. Apparently if it’s called something else, MSG is acceptable at Whole Foods.
Many bakery items are made with processed white sugar. If the label does not clearly state that it contains only cane sugar, it is very likely to contain GMO sugar from sugar beets.
Personal care products sold at Whole Foods contain many of the ingredients listed on the unacceptable food ingredients list. If the substance enters your body through the skin instead of the mouth, it is okay with Whole Foods.
The crown jewel of Whole Foods is probably the hot and cold prepared foods. Again, the quality standard is limited to the meaningless word natural. Although they say no artificial sweeteners, colors, flavors, or synthetic preservatives are used in their prepared foods, most of the foods on the hot bar are swimming in canola oil, a genetically modified junk oil that is not fit for human consumption according to experts on fats, Mary Enig, Ph.D., and Sally Fallon, Director of the Weston Price Foundation.
Many of Whole Foods salad bars contain no organic ingredients whatsoever. Some of their bars contain a very few organic items (usually five or fewer) which are denoted by red tongs. The overwhelming majority of items on the salad bar are conventional, the kind found in salad bars everywhere.
The deli dishes as well as those on the hot bar are made to the meaningless natural standard. They contain virtually no organic ingredients. Some contain MSG in the form of vegetable/beef/chicken stock, or hydrolyzed vegetable proteins. All corn including anything made with processed corn is almost certainly GMO, as is anything made with soy such as tofu or tempeh.
What it all means
Whole Foods is a Fortune 500 company, a huge and highly profitable corporation that owes its allegiance to its shareholders. As every corporation these days yearns to do, Whole Foods is exploiting a niche market in which it is the only big player. Since it has cleared the field of competition, it is free to raise prices and reduce quality, so customers must be extremely vigilant to be sure they are really getting what they think they are getting. That the schism between image and reality may be less at Whole Foods than in many corporations is of small comfort.
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Published with permission from Alignlife. Original article link is here.