Is Campbell’s GMO Announcement Mmmm mmm…good?

Campbell Soup Company (NYSE: CPB) today [January 7, 2016] announced its support for the enactment of federal legislation to establish a single mandatory labeling standard for foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs)….Campbell is prepared to label all of its U.S. products for the presence of ingredients that were derived from GMOs.

There’s an interesting post over at Philoskeptic, “Campbell’s Soup and the Ethics of Food Labeling.”

I recommend the whole post to you. I found we had areas of agreement and (apparent) disagreement in regards to the meaning of Campbell’s labeling, specifically about choice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I agreed with:

“Labeling itself is fine, such as including the names of allergens (milk, soy, wheat, etc.), or ingredients which could potentially harm a sub set of the population (such as phenylalanine), but labeling genetically engineered food is simply a bad idea.”

Indeed, one reason (of the many reasons) is that GMO is a placeholder, not an actual thing. Nathaniel Johnson has pointed out on Grist, “It’s practically impossible to define ‘GMOs.‘” that “GMOs, like other cultural constructs — think of gender, or race — do have a basis in reality, of course: We can roughly define ‘male’ or ‘Asian,’ but when we try to regulate these divisions, all kinds of problems crop up. And definitions of ‘GMOs’ are much messier — ‘nerd’ might be a roughly equivalent category. You know what a nerd is, but things would break down fast if you were required to label and regulate all the nerds. The definition of a nerd depends on the context; it depends on who’s asking. Same with GMOs.”

But I take issue with: “Choice is overrated…” He links to a Ted Talk by Barry Schwarz who says, according to the Ted Talk site, “…choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied.”
As Matt Ridley points out in his book, The Rational Optimist, “[According to political scientist Ronald Inglehart]: the big gains in happiness comes from living in a society that frees you to make choices about your lifestyle –– about where to live, who to marry, how to express your sexuality and so on. It is the increase in free choice since 1981 that has been responsible for the increase in happiness recorded since then in forty-five out of fifty-two countries. Ruut Veenhoven finds that ‘the more individualized the nation, the more citizens enjoy their life.'” [Emphasis mine]

I disagree that there are some things that we the people should not be free to choose. Philoskeptic says, the issues of “health and environmental safety, are probably far too serious to be left to the whims of consumer choice….The decision should not be made by consumers, but by an appropriate regulatory body which has the requisite knowledge base to make appropriate decisions regarding food. ”

This argument is akin to an “appeal to authority,” that is, “using the opinion or position of an authority figure, or institution of authority, in place of an actual argument.” In this case technocrats, a la Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), would make decisions for us. So why worry our pretty little heads about such things?

The EPA’s track record is spotty at best. It has always amazed me that the “Best Available Science” applied by the EPA (or other government agency) seems to be highly affected by the party affiliation of our chief executive, the President of the United States.

One thing social media has shown is that the majority of people are quite astute at calling bullshit on organizations and governments and holding them accountable. Companies especially know that the “long shadow of the future hangs over any transaction”(1) and we customers (having choices) will take our business elsewhere if we are not happy with the company’s policies or product.

Again let me stress that Philoskeptic and I do not think Campbell’s call for a federal label is a good one. GMO labeling is as unnecessary as it is costly. Go here to read the complete post.

Footnotes:

  1. Matt Ridley

 

 

 

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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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Is Campbell’s Soup Company’s GMO Announcement Hot or Cold?

WARNING: This product contains deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). DNA is linked to a variety of diseases that affect both animals and humans. It is a risk factor for cancer and heart disease. Pregnant women are at very high risk of passing on DNA to their children.

Yesterday, January 7, 2015, the Campbell’s Soup Company announced that it wants federal legislation for mandatory labeling of products containing GMO ingredients. Scientists create GM foods through transgenic methods or other gene manipulation. Organisms that have had their genes altered are termed Genetically Modified (GM or GMO).

Campbell Soup Company (NYSE: CPB) today announced its support for the enactment of federal legislation to establish a single mandatory labeling standard for foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Should a national standard fail, Campbell said that they were willing, in order to be completely transparent, to go it alone. “Campbell is prepared to label all of its U.S. products for the presence of ingredients that were derived from GMOs…”

They pointed out that the reason for this action was not because they felt GE ingredients were unsafe.

We are comfortable using these genetically modified crops because scientists and the FDA, who have been studying genetic engineering for many years, agree that food ingredients made with these methods are safe and aren’t different from other ingredients. Click here to learn more.

Nonetheless they said they thought people wanted to know.

We are operating with a “Consumer First” mindset. We put the consumer at the center of everything we do….We have always believed that consumers have the right to know what’s in their food. GMO has evolved to be a top consumer food issue reaching a critical mass of 92% of consumers in favor of putting it on the label.

Never mind that the 92% poll number comes from people being prompted specifically about GMOs. The number nosedives to a rockbottom 7% when people were asked what should be listed on a food label. Heck, 80% of people polled want mandatory labeling of DNA when they are asked directly if DNA in their food should be labeled (thus the warning label at the top on the page).

“Despite the $29 billion organic food industry claiming the majority of the public wants labels about genetic modification on food, a scant 7 percent mentioned GM ingredients when they were asked what is important for them to read on a label,” Hank Campbell, now the President of the American Council on Science and Health, wrote in Science 2.0. I don’t mean to belittle people on this issue. I want to make the point that people are more interested in their daily affairs but when prompted they want a lot of stuff. They say they want more legroom when flying, but when they purchase airline tickets they vote with their wallets. They want it labeled if it doesn’t cost them anything.

“Despite the $29 billion organic food industry claiming the majority of the public wants labels about genetic modification on food, a scant 7 percent mentioned GM ingredients when they were asked what is important for them to read on a label.”

Campbell’s example of label. “Partially produced with genetic engineering. For more information about GMO ingredients visit www.whatsinmyfood.com”

Why should I, or you, care about labels on Campbell’s Soup products? What does a food label campaign have to do with the environment? Agriculture, the raising of our food and fiber, occupies nearly 40% of earths’ 13 billion hectares of land. The addition of pesticides or fertilizers (whether organic or conventional all farms use some form of both) can result in runoff that can foul our waters. GE crops use less fertilizer, less land, less pesticide. A technology that has not caused so much as a tummy-ache (nocebo effects notwithstanding) and has freed up land with less runoff of fertilizer or pesticide ought to be embraced not shunned by every environmentalist. GMO labeling has had a chilling effect on sales in Europe, virtually vegetable non gratin there (pun intended).

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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