WASHINGTON, Oct. 15, 2014 – Whole Foods Market today launched a new rating system for its fruits, vegetables and flowers that assesses growing practices on how they affect human health and the environment.

The produce will be labeled “good “good,” “better,” or “best” to help shoppers make more informed choices, the company said in a news release. The new Responsibly Grown initiative also prohibits “some of the most hazardous neurotoxins still allowed in agriculture,” Whole Foods said.

“Responsibly Grown is the result of our collaboration with suppliers, scientists and issue experts to continue our strong commitment to organic, while embracing additional important topics and growing practices in agriculture today,” said Matt Rogers, global produce coordinator at Whole Foods Market. “We are excited to broaden the conversation to recognize additional growing practices and drive more transparency in the industry.”

To earn a “good” rating, a farm must take 16 major steps to protect air, soil, water, and human health.  Growers must also comply with the Responsibly Grown pesticide policy, which restricts growers to using only EPA-registered pesticides, regardless of the country of origin.  In other words, farms outside the U.S. cannot supply Whole Foods with fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers grown using pesticides not allowed in the U.S., with very limited exceptions. Growers also cannot use biosolids or irradiation and must commit to transparency about the use of GMOs, or genetically modified organisms.  

A “better” rating indicates advanced performance and a “best” rating indicates exceptional, industry-leading performance in a scoring system covering multiple topics in key categories including:

-Pest management (e.g. using beneficial insects to control pests);

-Farmworker welfare (e.g. providing protective equipment for workers);

-Water conservation and protection (e.g. using efficient irrigation techniques);

-Enhancing soil health (e.g. adding compost to soil; planting cover crops);

-Ecosystems and biodiversity (e.g. planting wildflowers to restore natural bee habitat for pollinator protection);

-Waste reduction (e.g. recycling plastics used in the field);

-Air, energy and climate (e.g. solar panels for renewable energy).

Whole Foods is launching Responsibly Grown by rating hundreds of products with key suppliers, more than 50 percent of produce nationwide.  The goal of reaching 100 percent ratings of all fruits, vegetables and flowers will be achieved over time, the company said.

Ken Cook, founder and president of the Environmental Working Group, said Whole Foods is “redefining what constitutes responsibly grown produce for a major retailer.” He said the company’s new standards for pesticides were especially significant.

“The long-standing line among most American produce retailers amounts to ‘our produce meets government pesticide standards,’” Cook said in a release. “Instead, Whole Foods is saying, in essence, ‘government pesticide standards are not good enough for our customers – not good enough for their health and not good enough for the environment that they want to protect through responsible shopping.’”

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