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Whole Foods CEO regrets comparing Obamacare to 'fascism'

John Mackey, co-CEO of Whole Foods
John Mackey, co-CEO of Whole FoodsMark Wilson / Getty Images

Whole Foods co-CEO John Mackey said Thursday that he regrets his "poor word choice" in a radio interview comparing America's health care system to "fascism."

In an NPR interview on Wednesday, Mackey said Obamacare is driving up his health care costs, which he believes he will ultimately have to pass on to his employees. When asked about an op-ed he wrote in The Wall Street Journal in 2009 likening Obamacare to socialism, Mackey said: "Technically speaking, it's more like fascism. Socialism is where the government owns the means of production. In fascism, the government doesn't own the means of production but they do control it. And that's what's happening with our health care program with these reforms." 

Critics pounced on Mackey's comments, suggesting on the Whole Foods Facebook page that Mackey had alienated his customer base and calling on Whole Foods customers to shop elsewhere. 

Mackey addressed the criticism on Thursday in remarks posted on the Whole Foods website.

"The term fascism today stirs up too much negative emotion with its horrific associations in the 20th century," he said.

"I believe that, if the goal is universal health care, our country would be far better served by combining free enterprise capitalism with a strong governmental safety net for our poorest citizens and those with preexisting conditions, helping everyone to be able to buy insurance. This is what Switzerland does and I think we would be much better off copying that system than where we are currently headed in the United States."

Mackey was on NPR to promote his new book, "Conscious Capitalism."

Barbara Pachter, author of "The Power of Positive Confrontation," said it's easy for anybody to put their foot in their mouth. "He used a very strong word, and you have to be careful with that." 

Mackey is entitled to his own opinions, Pachter said, but she cautioned that a high-profile CEO such as Mackey needs to be careful with his choice of words. Mackey did apologize, Pachter pointed out, and she called Whole Foods a "wonderful store" that is committed to the local communities in which it operates.

Whole Foods, based in Austin, has more than 340 stores in North America and the United Kingdom.

Mackey is not the first CEO to publicly criticize Obamacare. Last fall, brand perceptions of Papa John's, Applebee's and Denny's took a beating after executives publicly said that  Obamacare would force them to stop building restaurants, cut worker hours and raise prices.