In 2014, Whole Foods Market, Inc., a large store chain specializing in organic foods, established a “Responsible Growth” system for rating its farm produce. According to a 2015 survey, some participating farmers are unhappy with the system.
The system is focused on rewarding responsible farmers who “protect human health and the environment.” The system measures soil health, waste reduction, farmworker treatment, etc. That system supposedly harms the very farmers it is supposed to reward.
According to an analyst with the Cornucopia Institute, farmers are required to pay a high fee and complete a long questionnaire in order to receive Whole Foods’ “good” “better” or “best” ratings of their produce. Some participating farmers claim the costs run from $5,000 – $20,000. Those higher costs of compliance may make participation difficult or even impossible for smaller farms. Consequently, some are arguing that Whole Foods is forming the farmers to pay the costs of Whole Foods’ system when the large store chain – with approximately 400 U. S. stores – should fund the system itself.
In addition, Whole Foods’ system has been criticized as undercutting the established “organic” label and certification. At least one organic grower/packer argues that the “organic” system should be the foundation of whatever system Whole Foods wants to employ.
At least some critics believe the new system reflects Whole Foods’ attempts to compete with major competitors. Whole Foods built itself up on organic farming suppliers; however, Costco has recently beaten Whole Foods as the largest retail seller of organic produce. Some critics believe Whole Foods’ new system is an attempt to distinguish itself from the tough competition.
Whole Foods’ response is to support its Responsible Growing system, claiming that more than 60% of its 200 supplying farmers have participated in the program and that it will work with smaller farms that may have trouble paying the required fees.
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