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.

Post to Twitter