What Campbell’s Got Right and Wrong in Their GMO Label Announcement

Campbell’s announcement coincided with the new U.S. government’s eating guidelines; “Campbell Announces Support for Mandatory GMO Labeling.”
“Genetic engineering,” California’s legislative analyst wrote in 2012, “is the process of changing the genetic material of a living organism to produce some desired change in that organisms characteristics.” In other words, GE is not an ingredient, like hydrogenated vegetable oil, it’s a technology, a method, that uses existing genes to produce useful plants and animals, such as E. coli which produce life-saving human insulin.

The announcement was hailed by supporters of labeling of all genetically engineered crops and by some GMO supporters, such as Mark Lynas, as well.

Here’s what I think they got right…and what I think they got wrong with their announcement:

Right

  • Campbell did not say they were removing ingredients that were made using the bioengineering.  This is quite different from companies that try to appease the foodists that want their foods “natural” through removing all genetically enhanced products or removing strange sounding chemicals.
  • Campbell cited science and research in the safety of its use in their products. “Campbell continues to recognize that GMOs are safe, as the science indicates that foods derived from crops grown using genetically modified seeds are not nutritionally different from other foods. The company also believes technology will play a crucial role in feeding the world.”

Wrong

  • Campbell wants all food products to be labeled under a nationwide standard. “Campbell believes it is necessary for the federal government to provide a national standard for labeling requirements to better inform consumers about this issue. The company will advocate for federal legislation that would require all foods and beverages regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to be clearly and simply labeled for GMOs. Campbell is also supportive of a national standard for non-GMO claims made on food packaging.”
    I have no qualm with any company choosing to voluntarily label their product as having ingredients that were produced using GE. But they want to force other companies to also label their products. If they think their voluntary label will gain them customers, go for it.
  • Campbell relied on dodgy statistics to make their case. They use the figure that 92 percent of consumers want to know if a product contains a GMO ingredient. “With 92 percent of Americans supporting the labeling of GMO foods…” A big problem with that number is it is highly inflated. When asked, “What information would you like to see on food labels that is not already on there?”, only 7 percent listed GMO’s as a concern, hardly a groundswell of interest. After all, when pollsters asked those surveyed if they would like DNA in their food, 80% said they wanted DNA listed. (Note: any living thing plant, animal, or undecided contains DNA–deoxyribonucleic acid)

Too Close to Call

  • Perhaps Campbell thinks that labels will be like the Prop 65 signs. In California, Proposition 65 signs are ubiquitous.  You will find the signs at supermarkets, hotels, motels, gas stations, coffee shops, restaurants, to name but a few businesses. They are so frequent and in so many places that they have lost any value. No one pays attention to them. When everything everywhere contains something that at certain exposures over time causes cancer, well, it loses any value as a warning and is simply part of the landscape.This argument has some validity. The difference is that the chemicals listed by the California EPA have some toxicity to humans. All the GMO foods on market shelves have no more, and sometimes less toxicity, than the food they are part of.
Disneyland Prop 65 Warning

Disneyland Prop 65 Warning sign by Patrick Pelletier – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org

More information:

Campbell Announces Support for Mandatory GMO Labeling (http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20160107006458/en/)
The Choices behind our Food (http://www.whatsinmyfood.com/the-choices-behind-our-food/)
Why we support mandatory national GMO labeling (http://www.campbellsoupcompany.com/newsroom/news/2016/01/07/labeling/)
Food from Genetically Engineered Plants (http://www.fda.gov/Food/FoodScienceResearch/GEPlants/default.htm)

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