The Responsibly Grown system labels these items as “good,” “better” or “best” to help shoppers make more informed choices in the produce and floral departments, and it prohibits some of the most hazardous neurotoxins still allowed in agriculture.
Prohibited pesticides include several organophosphate insecticides, which can impair neurological development in children born to mothers exposed in diet or by working in agriculture and living in nearby communities. A full list of prohibited and restricted pesticides is on the Responsibly Grown web page.
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 US cannot supply Whole Foods Market with fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers grown using pesticides not allowed in the US, with very limited exceptions including for crops not grown in the US. Growers also cannot use biosolids or irradiation and must commit to GMO transparency.
A “better” rating indicates advanced performance and a “best” rating indicates exceptional, industry-leading performance in a scoring system covering multiple topics in each of these key categories:
- 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)
Pollinator protection is another focus of the program. Responsibly Grown addresses the primary threats facing pollinators including high-risk pesticide use, loss of habitat, and disease spread from managed bees to wild pollinators. Four of the most common neonicotinoids currently allowed in the US will be prohibited for growers to reach the Responsibly Grown “best” level. Many growers, scientists, environmentalists, and beekeepers are concerned about the impact of these pesticides on bees and other pollinators.
Whole Foods is launching Responsibly Grown by rating hundreds of products with key suppliers, more than 50 percent of produce nationwide. The company says it will reach the goal of 100 percent ratings of all fruits, vegetables and flowers over time.