Whole Foods' New Rating System Is Hurting Small Farmers

06/16/2015 02:58 pm ET | Updated Jun 16, 2015

Whole Foods' new system to rate the eco-friendliness of its products gives customers more information about the produce and flowers they buy, but it's hurting farmers in the process, according to Mark Kastel, a farm policy analyst with The Cornucopia Institute.

The supermarket chain's Responsibly Grown system, which rolled out late last year, measures soil health, waste reduction, farmworker welfare and more. But to get into the program, farmers have to pay Whole Foods a whopping fee and fill out a long questionnaire to receive a "good," "better" or "best" rating next to their produce, Kastel told HuffPost Live's Josh Zepps on Monday.

"Here's a multi-billion dollar corporation. They own over 400 stores in this country. They're asking the farmers to pay for this program," he said. "Now, farmers have been polled who've gone through the process, and they estimate the cost to comply at anywhere between $5,000 and $20,000 a year."

For smaller farms, Kastel explained, this high cost might "lock them out" of Whole Foods. Additionally, organic farmers have heavily criticized the program, including Vernon Peterson, a grower and organic food packer in Kingsburg, California, who recently told NPR that the new system undermines the organic certification and label.

"Organic is responsibly grown, for goodness sake," Peterson said. "Organic should be the foundation of anything that Whole Foods might do."

Kastel told HuffPost Live that the onus should be on Whole Foods to pay the program fees.

"One of the 'demands,' you might say, that farmers have articulated ... is to not shift this cost where the lion's share of any benefit is going to accrue to Whole Foods, [instead of] to the farmers," Kastel explained. "And if they [Whole Foods] think this is a great idea, they should be bearing the financial burden to roll this out."

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