How Whole Foods Rates Its Vegetables

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Whole Foods Market recently launched a new rating system for their produce in terms of sustainability. For most people, this means when buying fruit or vegetables at the grocer, you can now choose from ‘good’, ‘better’, or ‘best’ produce — a system meant to simplify the many labels now on vegetables, like “GMO-Free” or “USDA Organic.” 

“Not everybody has to be an agriculture expert to come shopping,” says Matt Rogers, Whole Foods’ global produce coordinator. “We want to make it easy and make it accessible to customers to be able to make decisions based on things that are important to them.” So what does Whole Foods deem “important”? Here’s a look at the 16-point environmental checklist that every grower must get through.

  1. Compliance with laws: All laws, codes and regulations involving inputs like pesticides, nutrients, amendments, and irrigation are met.
  2. Soil Tests: A soil test is performed at least once every three years.
  3. Irrigation by crop need: If irrigation is used, it is scheduled based on crop need and to optimize water-use efficiency.
  4. Environmental Planning: An environmental emergency plan is maintained.
  5. Nutrient Application Planning: If nutrients are applied, it is at a rate and timing based on crop need and minimizes nutrient loss from cropland.
  6. Nutrient Application Recordkeeping: If nutrients are applied, records are maintained of the applications.
  7. Nutrient Application Equipment Calibration: If nutrients are applied, all nutrient application equipment is maintained and calibrated by the manufacturers’ instructions at least once a year.
  8. Air Quality: Trash is not burned and the burning of vegetation is limited.
  9. Non-Pesticidal Strategies: There are effective non-pesticidal strategies against key diseases, weeds, nematodes, and other pests.
  10. Current Knowledge of Pests, Diseases, and Weeds: Individuals employed and contracted to the farm can identify and describe features of all key insect and wildlife pests, diseases, and weeds.
  11. U.S. EPA Registration and Label Use: If pesticides are used, they are approved by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and used according to its instructions and restrictions.
  12. Prohibited Pesticides: If pesticides are used, the applications are compliant with the most current Whole Foods Market policy.
  13. Pesticide Application Planning: If pesticides are used, they are applied based on inspection, monitoring, or another science-based approach according to need.
  14. Pesticide Application Record-keeping: If pesticides are used, written or electronic application records are maintained.
  15. Pesticide Application Equipment Calibration: If pesticides are used, all pesticide application equipment is calibrated by its manufacturers’ instruction at least once a year.
  16. Pesticide Drift Mitigation Plan: If pesticides are used, a pesticide drift mitigation plan is maintained.

To add to this: Growers must have GMO transparency, meaning they must disclose any use of GMO seeds or plant material. Growers cannot use irradiation, which is a method to preserve foods using radiation to reduce disease-causing organisms. They also cannot use biosolids, which are fertilizers made from treated municipal waste.
 
To receive a ‘better’ or ‘best’ rating growers need to earn points on advanced questions in a set of subcategories. Whole Foods did not disclose exactly how many points a farmer needs to earn a ranking in each category but the points can be earned by taking advanced steps in a list of sustainability subcategories, including:  

  • Soil health: Growers evaluate, protect, and improve their soil in order to ensure soil health using methods such as composting and rotating crops.
  • Air, energy and climate: Growers participate in practices that reduce pollution and conserve energy, such as tracking greenhouse gas emissions and using renewable energy sources like wind or solar power.
  • Waste reduction: Growers use practices that minimize waste. Some strategies that can be used is reducing packaging or recycling farm materials such as plastic and oil.
  • Farm workers’ welfare: Growers create better work conditions for farmworkers by reducing pesticide risk, providing protective equipment or participating in third-party auditing programs to promote safe conditions and fair compensation.
  • Water conservation and protection: Growers protect and conserve water by using methods like rainwater collection or drip irrigation.
  • Ecosystem and biodiversity:  Growers use farming practices that protect native species on their farmland by planting bee-friendly wildflowers, improving conservation areas, and taking steps to protect beneficial insects from harmful chemicals.
  • Pest management: Growers do not use any Whole Foods Market prohibited pesticides such as allethrin or phorate. They also reduce their pesticide use by using non-chemical controls on farmland by rotating crops among their fields, monitoring pest populations and weather conditions, calibrating application equipment, or reducing drift movement of pesticides.

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