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Organic Farmers: Whole Foods Rating System is 'Existential Threat'


Organic farmers are pushing back hard against Whole Foods Market's new rating system, which tags fruits and vegetables as "Good, Better or Best," based on how producers fill out a questionnaire.

In reports from NPR and this morning's New York Times, Whole Foods says its new rating system, dubbed "Responsibly Grown" is designed to give customers more information about their food choices, but some organic farmers say the system does nothing more than "promote sales of cheaper food" and "undermines the advantages of eating an organic diet."

The Times reports that Whole Foods continues to face major competition from both ends of the grocery spectrum—from mainstream chains like Safeway, Walmart and Costco all the way to local farmers markets and food cooperatives. That competition is affecting Whole Foods' bottom line:the company's stock is near a 52-week low after falling 14 percent in May.

Meanwhile, organic farmers say the Whole Foods questionnaire, which triggers the company's rating system, comes with a fee: Suppliers must pay to get into the program which results in each bin of produce getting a grade of "Good, Better, Best or Unrated."

NPR discovered several non-organic products, "presumably grown with standard fertilizers and pesticides" "Best'" while organic produce was labeled "Good" or "Unrated."

"We think that this program is kind of the tip of an iceberg that represents an existential threat to the value of certified organic," organic grower Tom Willey told NPR.