Foodites Rejoice: Campbell’s Right to Tell…and Sell

rp_F160471_SpaghettiOs_New_Labels-0091.jpgHank Campbell, President of the American Council on Science and Health (and co-author of Science Left Behind), wrote an interesting (and intelligent) post at Science 2.0: “GMO Labeling Is A Smart Marketing Strategy.”

He notes that “anti-science groups are hailing [Campbell’s announcement about labeling GMOs on their products] as a victory. US Right To Know, an outreach group funded by organic food corporations and aided by the partisan attack site SourceWatch, is certainly declaring this a big win for their clients.”

It is not a win for the “Right to Know” folks, rather, according to Hank, it is “a marketing and policy move so savvy it will be taught in business schools for decades to come.” He lays out three reasons:

  1. No one worried about GMOs is eating Campbell’s Soup. It’s “processed” food.
  2. Campbell Soup Co. now has the very people who hate them defending them.
  3. No one who understands science is going to stop eating Campbell Soup.

No one worried about GMOs is eating Campbell’s Soup. It’s “processed” food.

On the first point Hank writes that by going against what other companies have attempted, which is removing GMO supplied ingredients, and flatly stating that their products aren’t going to change, Campbell’s got Foodites(1) such as Michael Pollan on their side. “…all without removing a thing from their food.”

And if any foodites, such as those who quote Michael Pollan’s, In Defense of Food, as though it were a sacred document, buy a Campbell’s product, it’s all to the good. “[Any] cans bought by the organic market as a show of support is a net gain…”

Campbell Soup Co. now has the very people who hate them defending them.

Exhibit A:

It will be interesting to see if, Michael Pollan– author, yellow corn journalist (2), and penner of languid linguistic amuse-bouches that foodites dutifully repeat as though they were really wisps of wisdom and not self-indulgent bits of twaddle such as: “If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t.”–will deign to buy a can of Campbell’s Soup. He might. Probably to use as a paper weight.

No one who understands science is going to stop eating Campbell Soup.

Yes. A can of Campbell’s Minestrone as a paperweight, because it’s only a foodlike substance.

“What an extraordinary achievement for a civilization: to have developed the one diet that reliably makes its people sick!” – Michael Pollan, Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual

What an extraordinary achievement indeed! Due to technological progress (that includes food technology) we are healthier, happier, wealthier, wiser, kinder, and freer than at any time in human history.

“The average person lives about a third longer than 50 years ago and buries two-thirds fewer of his or her children (and child mortality is the greatest measure of misery I can think of). The amount of food available per head has gone up steadily on every continent, despite a doubling of the population. Famine is now very rare….Polio, measles, yellow fever, diphtheria, cholera, typhoid, typhus — they killed our ancestors in droves, but they are now rare diseases.” – Matt Ridley, Reasons to be Cheerful

Let us ditch what the French call a nostalgie de la boue – ‘nostalgia for mud’– this idea that things were brighter, better, and healthier in the past. Between 1933 and 1935, more than 5,000 children in the United States alone died from diarrhea and enteritis, due primarily caused by food-borne pathogens. Today, the rate is 1/2 of 1% of what it was in the 1930s for Americans of all ages.

I don’t know if Campbell’s has made the right decision. I do know that because of today’s food processes I am healthier than my grandparents. Sure there are problems, but because of science, the trend is in the right direction, in spite of and not because of the Foodites.

Footnotes:

  1. Foodite is a portmanteau of Foodie and anti-technology Luddite
  2. A form of Yellow journalism skewed toward food and deplores food technology

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Past as Prologue: What the Campbell’s Execs Forgot About Organic Labels

Photo Credit: Genetic Literacy Project

[Insert George Santayana quote here]

Steven Novella over at the Neurologica blog, follows up on Campbell’s decision to label their products made using genetic engineered products, even if there is no mandated nationwide standard.

He first talks about the lack of science for labels.

“The very notion of GMOs is a false dichotomy. Opponents then argue that transgenic GMOs, using genes from distant species that could not mix in nature, is different than the other methods. This is factually wrong and logically dubious.

“First, horizontal gene transfer allows for genes from other kingdoms to mix into plants and even animals. In fact it was recently discovered that most sweet potatoes today have a gene derived from a soil bacteria, incorporated naturally thousands of years ago.”

Then he lays out what he calls “The Practical and Political Case”:

“Campbell is essentially concluding that the anti-GMO activists have won on this issue, and their only choice as a company is to go with it. If they oppose GMO labeling, then they can be portrayed as hiding something and being against consumer choice.”

The agony antis will then press their winning on this front and move the discussion to marginalizing and then banning products derived from GE from U.S. markets.

“All of the government and scientific caveats about why food with GMOs are being labeled will be forgotten, and anti-GMO ideologues will use the mandatory labeling to argue that GMOs are not safe.”

He points out that before there was a national label for “organic”:

“The USDA resisted an official organic label for years, based on scientific grounds. There is no evidence that organic produce is safer, healthier, or more nutritious, and so labeling will confer no benefit to the consumer.

“They eventually relented to the argument that they could have a limited organic label, and explain to the public that the label is not a claim for any superiority, it only has to do with the method or production not the final product, and only serves the purpose of standardizing the use of the term ‘organic.’ Their efforts were utterly futile.” [emphasis is mine]

Here’s what the U.S. Department of Agriculture says the organic label is:
Organic is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods…and “must be verified by a USDA-accredited certifying agent…USDA certified organic labels indicate that the producer followed a process. The label does not say it is healthier or better for people or the land, only that a process was followed.

It’s hard to make predictions, especially about the future.

Since we are talking about the future, the result where consumers have forgotten the caveats about the safety of the food system and the equivalency of genetically enhanced products, and they will only remember the overly-simplistic message (complete with syringes in tomatoes) that GMOs are bad and Monsanto is evil, is a guess. But given the past performances of the foodists, I wouldn’t bet against it.

Novella’s full piece, “Should There Be Mandatory GMO Labeling? is well worth reading in full.

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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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