NO TOUCHING!
NO TOUCHING!
Jeff Cutler

The Daily Beast has an article that takes a lot of words to criticize Whole Foods, and people who believe in traditional medicine in general, by making them out to be a lot of anti-science crackpots. We’re not really interested in ragging on probiotics and herbal medicine — we’re open to the possibility that big pharmaceutical companies don’t have all the answers to health, and, as long as no one’s trying to force school nurses to give kids ginger tea in place of Tylenol or, more seriously, reduce our herd immunity by rejecting vaccines, we’re happy to let people eat all the immunity-boosting goji berries they want.

But you have to admit that this part is a little bit funny:

There’s a sign in the Durham store suggesting that shoppers bag their organic and conventional fruit separately—lest one rub off on the other—and grind their organic coffees at home—because the Whole Foods grinders process conventional coffee, too, and so might transfer some non-organic dust. “This slicer used for cutting both CONVENTIONAL and ORGANIC breads” warns a sign above the Durham location’s bread slicer.

I mean, we get the idea: You’re spending money for pesticide-free organic food and you don’t want it contaminated with pesticides. It does seems a little silly, right?

But, actually, there might be a reasonable explanation. Just as the Beast is not the first to discover that Whole Foods is not a eco-friendly nonprofit, but a business selling people what it thinks they will buy, this article is not the first bit of media to poke fun at these signs. BoingBoing was on it in 2009, and a commenter provided some context:

the QAI standards for Organic certification require this kind of crazy signage behind the scenes. That it’s being shared with the public is evidence of either an overzealous inspector or an overzealous manager.

So there you have it. Whole Foods is just getting a little bit too excited about doing what the government is requiring of it. And surely Whole Foods’ libertarian owner, John Mackey, would be very, very happy to talk about why it’s the government that’s the problem here.

Update: Whole Foods has emailed to clarify that, indeed, the organic certification for its stores means that there can be no “co-mingling” between organic and nonorganic products. If you care to know more about this separate-but-equal treatment, try this.