Buying environmentally friendly food at Whole Foods just got a whole lot easier, or a whole lot more complicated, depending on how you look at it.
The forward–thinking grocery store chain introduced new Responsibly Grown ratings this week for its produce and flowers. The color-coded system ranks foods as “good,” “better” or “best” depending on how they were grown. (If those consistently positive labels seem presumptuous, an “unrated” option exists as well—possibly for produce whose merits are best left undiscussed.)
According to Whole Foods’ website, all rated items must adhere to a base set of standards including “16 farming practices to protect air, soil, water and human health”; “No Whole Foods Market prohibited pesticides”; “GMO transparency”; “No irradiation”; and “No biosolids” (sludge that comes from the treatment of sewage). For an item to move up the ladder from “good” to “better” requires things such as “Protecting rivers, lakes and oceans”; and moving from “better” to “best” requires actions like “Protecting bees and butterflies.”
Whole Foods developed the entire system, and the Associated Press reports that suppliers are the ones submitting compliance information, leaving a number of questions about the program’s design and enforcement.
What’s far more clear is what’s driving these new ratings: Whole Foods has continued to see sales decline, as other retailers chip away at the health food market. The company seemingly wants to prove it is taking social responsibility to the next level. Whether these Responsibly Grown ratings are one of the best solutions to Whole Foods’ woes, or just a “good” one, is yet to be seen.