Some organic farmers are protesting a new grading system for produce and flowers that's coming into force at Whole Foods. They say it devalues the organic label and could become an "existential threat."
The rating system is called "Responsibly Grown."
Whole Foods is asking its suppliers to answer a long questionnaire. There are questions about how they protect the soil and wildlife on their farms, whether they limit their use of pesticides, how they conserve energy and irrigation water and how they treat their workers.
Based on those answers, a farm's produce gets a grade: Unrated, Good, Better or Best. Those grades show up right beside each bin of produce on brightly colored stickers with the words: "Responsibly Grown."
But here's what is making organic farmers angry. At a Whole Foods store in Washington, D.C., I found nonorganic onions and tomatoes, presumably grown with standard fertilizers and pesticides, that were labeled "Best." A few feet away, I found organic onions and tomatoes that were graded merely "Good" or just "Unrated."
Matt Rogers, a global produce coordinator for Whole Foods, insists that Whole Foods is not backing away from its support for organic farming. He says the new ratings are simply a way to talk to farmers and customers about things that the organic rules just don't touch, "such as water conservation, energy use in agriculture, farm worker welfare, waste management."
There are farmers who are doing a great job with that, he says, and they aren't all organic. "There are conventional growers that we work with who are incredible stewards of the land, who do a tremendous job with their workforce, who deserve to be recognized," Rogers says.
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