The debate over genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) in food has long been a contentious one, spilling over into statewide elections here in the U.S. and in the headquarters of some of the world’s largest international organizations. Proponents of GMO research insist such crops are one way to meet the world’s demand for food as the population is on course to hit 9 billion by 2050. Those opposed to GMO crops say the fact that such research goes beyond conventional plant and animal breeding creates risks ranging from allergens to potential environmental damage. The arguments have resulted in controversies over whether foods containing GMO ingredients (or any such crops used within a product’s supply chain) should be labelled as such.
The European Union has required such labeling for several years, but this has not yet occurred across the pond in the U.S. and Canada. Should GMO labeling be mandatory in the interest of transparency, or is this just a scare tactic to spook consumers while putting yet another burden on businesses?
Now Campbell Soup Co. is wading into the fracas with its recent announcement that the $8.3 billion food giant, which includes brands such as Pepperidge Farm, Prego and Swanson, will now support federal legislation that establishes a standard for GMO labeling. Perhaps even more importantly, Campbell’s says it will withdraw from all organizations that oppose such labeling measures.
This is quite the turnaround for Campbell’s, which reportedly donated $500,000 in 2012 to campaigns against Proposition 37 (a GMO-labeling initiative in California that did not pass after spending most of the year far ahead in the polls). The company says it is cognizant of the fact that as much as 90 percent of the American public supports GMO labeling. And facing market realities, Campbell’s has announced that a federal guideline for such labeling would be far more seamless than trying to meet a patchwork of requirements across states and municipalities. Furthermore, whether or not science favors your stance on GMOs or not, the stubborn fact persists that it is advantageous for a company to be proactive on this issue. With all eyes on Vermont and how its GMO labeling legislation pans out, it is better for Campbell’s to rise above the debate instead of finding itself bogged down within this food fight.
“We’ve always believed consumers have a right to know what’s in their food,” wrote Dave Stangis, Campbell’s chief sustainability officer, in an email to TriplePundit. “We know that the overwhelming majority of Americans support GMO labeling, and transparency is a critical part of our purpose. That's why we're announcing our support for mandatory national labeling of products that may contain GMOs.”
Compared to many of its competitors, Campbell’s is ahead of the game. While it insists that GMOs are safe and that “technology will play a crucial role in feeding the world,” the company says that it is prepared to go above and beyond Vermont’s pending legislation and label all products sold in the U.S. for any presence of GMO-derived ingredients. The company adds that it will also reach out to the Department of Agriculture and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the language it will use on its future packaging.
Campbell’s said the changes in labeling will take from 12 to 18 months to implement. That may be too slow for many anti-GMO activists, but nevertheless, this decision is a huge milestone in the ongoing GMO discussion. While this is a short-term victory for those opposed to GMOs, in the long run this could be a win for those who support the development of such foods — especially if, in the future, we realize the catcalls were based more on hysteria than science.
Image credit: Campbell’s
Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.