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:


  • 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.”


  • 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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Can the poor eat now?

More noise from Michael Pollan found here (and I have written on here). He suggests that the poor could get a more varied diet and avoid the effects of a vitamin poor diet (such as vitamin A deficiency) by planting “greens in pots around their houses…” That way, we would not need to employ Golden Rice.

Slum shelters built just feet from the train tracks in central Jakarta Indonesia.
Picture taken by Jonathan McIntosh, 2004.

In order to reduce vitamin A deficiency, Michael Pollan suggests “[We should] encourage [the poor] to plant squash or greens in pots around their houses or around the edges of fields.” Because, “Sometimes there’s a really boring way to achieve the same thing.”

Brilliant! Now why didn’t researchers think of that? Perhaps, because:

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong. – H. L. Mencken

Once again, let’s listen to Dr. Florence Wambugu:

You people in the developed world are certainly free to debate the merits of genetically modified foods, but can we please eat first?”



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Golden rice now, everything else is noise.

Golden Rice grain in jar GN7_0475-22

Golden Rice in a jar with the Golden Rice plants in background. Photo credit: Part of the image collection of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI).

Please spare me the anti-biotech crowd’s Argumentum ad Monsantum (the “Appeal to Monsanto” argument) over Genetically Engineered (GE) foods. I’m speaking, of course, of the push back in the Lake County Record-Bee to my “Golden rice, golden opportunity” column. Golden Rice is a genetically engineered crop created by borrowing the carotene-making gene from corn and placing that gene into rice, which does not produce carotene (at least not in the parts of the rice plant that we eat). Our bodies convert carotene into vitamin A and then use  that vitamin A in the development of bones and eyesight. Golden Rice will be given free of additional charges and free of restrictions to subsistence farmers, and can be replanted every year from saved harvests.

Still some people prefer to trust the ballroom-dancing teacher and Yogic flying instructor, Jeffrey Smith; Mike Adams, the self-proclaimed “Health Ranger”; Greenpeace; Vandana Shiva; the Organic Consumers Association; or Joseph Mercola over the word of the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the World Health Organization or… well, you get the idea.

In the U.S. average lifespan has increased from 76 years in 1996 to nearly 80 years today, and globally, lifespans have increased from 66.4 to 71.0 years in the same time period.

I’m not surprised, findings published in JAMA Internal Medicine showed that 12% of Americans agreed with the statement: “The global dissemination of genetically modified foods by Monsanto, Inc. is part of a secret program, called Agenda 21, launched by the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations to shrink the world’s population.” A whopping 37% agreed “The Food and Drug Administration is deliberately preventing the public from getting natural cures for cancer and other diseases because of pressure from drug companies,” and 12% agreed that “Public water fluoridation is really just a secret way for chemical companies to dump dangerous byproducts of phosphate mines into the environment.”

Agenda 21 not withstanding, everyone is living longer. In the U.S., where about 70 percent of the food in our supermarkets contains ingredients from genetically engineered crops, life expectancy has increased from 76 years in 1996 (when large-scale cultivation of GE crops took off) to nearly 80 years today, and global life expectancy has increased from 66.4 to 71.0 years in the same time period. As one wag wrote, “If we’re less healthy, we sure are coping with it more effectively.” And compared with Europe, which has virtually banned GE crops, there is no discernible difference in cancer rates or lifespans.

Meanwhile, there is a need for what Golden Rice can deliver: vitamin A. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 vitamin A-deficient children become blind every year, half of them dying within 12 months of losing their sight. “These are real deaths, real disability, real suffering, not the phantom fears… none of which have held up to objective scientific scrutiny,” risk-perception expert David Ropiek writes. Allowing Golden Rice to be eaten by populations prone to vitamin A Deficiency means that blindness could be prevented (it cannot be cured once it has happened). Less than a cup of cooked Golden Rice provides children 6 to 8-years-old with some 60% of their daily vitamin A needs, not 7 pounds as claimed in the letter to the editor.

Greenpeace, et alia throw up various smokescreens which boil down to suggesting that it is preferable to raise the needy’s standard of living and provide them with alternative diets and/or supplements: the “Let them eat kale” defense. Those might work, but if the poor could afford a more varied and fulfilling diet, don’t you think they would do so? Fortunately, we are becoming hip to anti-biotech ploys. “[I]ncreasingly the scientific community and journalists are becoming aware of the rhetorical two-steps and destructive strategies employed by organizations that are hostile to GMOs, while pretending that they cling to science,” Dr. Mary Mangan wrote. She has a PhD in Cell, Molecular, and Developmental Biology. Researcher at University of Florida, Dr. Kevin Folta challenges those who wish to stop Golden Rice and other bio-fortification, “If there are so many viable alternatives, what are ya’ll waiting for?…It is easy to stand against a technology with a full belly and 20/20 vision…Let’s give it away as intended and…Let it help people if it can.”

Agricultural economist, Alexander Stein who has written peer-reviewed papers on Golden Rice says that even under the pessimistic scenarios, “biofortification is extremely cost-effective.” Why? Golden Rice supplies vitamin A with every bowl. “[T]here is a fairly intuitive argument why biofortified crops, such as Golden Rice (or other crops that were developed using ‘conventional’ breeding), can be even more cost-effective than supplementation or fortification: Economies of scale. In the case of vitamin A supplementation all children in at-risk households need to receive two mega-doses of vitamin A per year, year after year. The cost of one supplement may only be cents, but distribution and monitoring costs need to be added, too. And these costs need to be incurred over and over and over again.”

In the four minutes it took you to read this, two, three or four children lost their sight due to Vitamin A Deficiency, and, in the same four minutes at least one child died. Everything else is noise.

For more information visit goldenrice.org or irri.org/golden-rice




[1] Dunning, Brian. Argumentum ad Monsantium. 2012.

http://www.skepticblog.org/2012/11/08/argumentum-ad-monsantium/  Accessed 9 November 2012


[2] Goodman, Glenn. Biotech Bull. Lake County Record-Bee.

http://www.record-bee.com/readersviews/ci_25326689/opinion-letter-editor-biotech-bull  Accessed 31 March 2014


[3] Benson, Norm. Golden rice, golden opportunity. Lake County Record-Bee.

http://www.record-bee.com/readersviews/ci_25319623/opinion-column-green-chain-golden-rice-golden-opportunity  Accessed 31 March 2014


[4] A. J. Stein email to author


[5] “[Jeffrey] Smith’s background is limited to being a swing dance instructor, running for local office as a candidate with the Maharishi-linked Natural Law Party built around the powers of transcendental meditation and running marketing for a GMO testing company led by the Maharishi’s “raja for food purity, safety and health invincibility” responsible for the promotion of the Maharishi brand of “Vedic Organic” agriculture. Smith’s work is financially sponsored by a range of organic, natural product and alternative health companies who are better able to sell higher-priced products by fueling consumer fear and mistrust of well-regulated, more affordable products that may be produced using biotechnology or other conventional agriculture tools.”

http://www.24-7pressrelease.com/press-release/actual-gmo-experts-available-to-respond-to-activist-jeffrey-smiths-false-and-misleading-claims-373922.php Accessed 5 April 2014


[6] Most ‘dangerous’ anti-science GMO critic? Meet Mike Adams–Conspiracy junkie runs alternative ‘health’ empire more influential than US government websites. Genetic Literacy Project



[7] ‘So, if introduced on a large scale, golden rice can exacerbate malnutrition and ultimately undermine food security.’ This statement by (Greenpeace, 2012: 3) is in strong contradiction to the reported impacts of vitamin A deficiency and the nutritional impacts of vitamin A enriched diets. More than 125 million children under five years of age suffer from vitamin A deficiency (VAD). Dietary VAD causes 250,000–500,000 children to go blind each year.



[8] Shiva tweeted after Mark Lynas’s Oxford speech that his saying that farmers should be free to use GMO crops was like giving rapists the freedom to rape.



[9] Further down in its press release, the Organic Consumers Association asserts: Recent studies have linked GMOs to human health issues, including kidney and liver failure, allergies and cancer.

Kloor, Keith. GMO Opponents Use Fear and Deception to Advance Their Cause – Collide-a-Scape | DiscoverMagazine.com

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/collideascape/2014/03/28/gmo-opponents-use-fear-deception-advance-cause/  accessed 30 March 2014


[11] Bioengineered foods have been consumed for close to 20 years, and during that time, no overt consequences on human health have been reported and/or substantiated in the peer-reviewed literature.



[12] All evidence evaluated to date indicates that unexpected and unintended compositional changes arise with all forms of genetic modification, including genetic engineering. Whether such compositional changes result in unintended health effects is dependent upon the nature of the substances altered and the biological consequences of the compounds. To date, no adverse health effects attributed to genetic engineering have been documented in the human population.



[13] There are occasional claims that feeding GM foods to animals causes aberrations ranging from digestive disorders, to sterility, tumors and premature death. Although such claims are often sensationalized and receive a great deal of media attention, none have stood up to rigorous scientific scrutiny. Indeed, a recent review of a dozen well-designed long-term animal feeding studies comparing GM and non-GM potatoes, soy, rice, corn and triticale found that the GM and their non-GM counterparts are nutritionally equivalent.



[14] Are foods from genetically engineered plants regulated by FDA? Yes. FDA regulates the safety of foods and food products from plant sources including food from genetically engineered plants. This includes animal feed, as under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, food is defined in relevant part as food for man and other animals.



[15] GM foods currently available on the international market have passed risk assessments and are not likely to present risks for human health. In addition, no effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of such foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.

http://www.who.int/foodsafety/publications/biotech/20questions/en/  accessed 2 April 2014


[16] J. Eric Oliver, PhD1; Thomas Wood, MA1. Medical Conspiracy Theories and Health Behaviors in the United States. Research Letter. JAMA Internal Medicine. March 17, 2014

http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1835348  accessed 1 April 2014


[17] Planes, Alex. Why Is Monsanto the Most Hated Company in the World? June, 2013.



[18] Planes, Alex. Why Is Monsanto the Most Hated Company in the World? June, 2013.



[19] Planes, Alex. Why Is Monsanto the Most Hated Company in the World? June, 2013.



[24] Ropiek, David. Golden Rice Opponents Should Be Held Accountable for Health Problems Linked to Vitamin A Deficiency.

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2014/03/15/golden-rice-opponents-should-be-held-accountable-for-health-problems-linked-to-vitamain-a-deficiency/ Accessed 2 April 2014


[25] A bowl of (100 to 150 g) cooked Golden Rice (50 g dry weight) can provide 60% of the Chinese Recommended Nutrient Intake of vitamin A for 6-8-year-old children.

http://irri.org/  Accessed 3 April 2014


[26] Goodman, Glenn. Biotech Bull. Lake County Record-Bee.

http://www.record-bee.com/readersviews/ci_25326689/opinion-letter-editor-biotech-bull  Accessed 31 March 2014


[28] From Lynas to Pollan, Agreement that Golden Rice Trials Should Proceed – NYTimes.com

http://dotearth.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/27/from-mark-lynas-to-michael-pollan-agreement-that-golden-rice-trials-should-proceed/ accessed 3 April 2014


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