NEW YORK (AP) -- Whole Foods says all products in its North American stores will have labels disclosing if they contain genetically modified ingredients by 2018.
The company says it's the first national grocery chain to set such a deadline for labeling foods that contain genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. A spokeswoman for Whole Foods said organic foods will not have to carry the labels since they do not contain GMOs by definition. Although Whole Foods is known as an organic grocer, it also sells a wide array of non-organic products.
Whole Foods Market Inc. notes that it has been working with suppliers for years to source products that don't have GMO ingredients. It says it currently sells more than 3,000 products have gone through the non-GMO verification process, more than any other retailer in North America.
The use of GMOs has been a growing issue in recent years, with health advocates pushing for mandatory labeling. Last year, California voters shot down an initiative that would have required such labels. As various efforts continue for GMO labeling, Whole Foods said it would move ahead with its own plans.
A spokeswoman for Whole Foods noted that its stores in the United Kingdom already have GMO labeling, in compliance with national regulations.
Walter Robb, co-CEO of Whole Foods, said the issue was about "the consumer's right to know."
Patty Lovera of Food and Water Watch, a consumer and environmental advocacy group, called the Whole Foods announcement a "smart move." Her group and others have been pushing for a federal law requiring labeling on all genetically modified foods.
"We're continuing to work to make this label mandatory because everyone deserves to have that label, not just Whole Food shoppers," Lovera said. "But I think it's smart on their part to start giving consumers what they want, which is more information."
Business Writer Matthew Perrone contributed to this story from Washington.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.