By: Ken Roseboro
Janurary 27, 2016
One of the most iconic American food brands has broken ranks with other major food companies by supporting mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods. The Campbell Soup Company recently announced its support for consumers’ right to know and said that it would label its own brand products that contain GMOs.
Campbell’s CEO Denise Morrison emphasized that supporting mandatory GMO labeling was inspired by the company’s commitment to its customers and transparency. “Our decision was guided by our Purpose; rooted in our consumer-first mindset; and driven by our commitment to transparency—to be open and honest about our food,” Morrison wrote in a letter posted on the company’s website.
Further Morrison said that Campbell has “always believed that consumers have the right to know what’s in their food” and that GMOs have “evolved to be a top consumer food issue” with surveys showing that 92% of consumers favor labeling.
The company urged the US government to “act quickly to implement a federal solution” for mandatory GMO labeling.
Industry observers were surprised by Campbell’s actions. “On the face of it, it seems like a watershed moment,” says Carl Jorgensen, director, global consumer strategy and wellness at Daymon International. “It is not without risk, and large CPGs (consumer product goods manufacturers) are not generally risk takers.”
Carmen Bain, an assistant professor of sociology at Iowa State University, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch—Monsanto’s hometown newspaper—that Campbell’s move is “potentially a game-changer.”
Bain said Campbell’s actions undermine one of the food industry’s main arguments against GMO labeling, which is that it is expensive. Campbell says adding a few words on food labels isn’t costly and won’t lead to increased food prices for their customers—contrary to claims of labeling opponents. In fact, a Campbell representative told Marketplace that changing labels is very straightforward and something that is done “every day of the week as part of our business.”
Another motivating factor for Campbell’s action was complying with Vermont’s GMO labeling law, which takes effect this July 1.
“If there is no federal standard for GMO labeling, then other companies will be forced to label GMOs in Vermont by July if they want to sell in that state. That’s just around the corner,” Jorgensen says.
Campbell products containing GM ingredients will carry a label that reads “Partially produced with genetic engineering” along with a website address, www.whatsinmyfood.com, which will provide more information about GM ingredients. About three fourths of Campbell’s products contain GM ingredients.
“Printing a clear and simple statement on the label is the best solution for consumers and for Campbell,” Morrison stated.
Campbell’s support for label statements contrasts with the food industry’s proposal of a voluntary QR code/smart phone labeling system that would provide GMO information about foods. The idea is opposed by GMO labeling advocates because many people don’t own smart phones and this burden shouldn’t be on the consumer.
Campbell also said it will withdraw from all industry efforts to oppose GMO labeling. The company had donated nearly $1 million to defeat GMO labeling initiatives in California and Washington State in 2012 and 2013.
The company also supports creation of a national standard for labeling foods as non-GMO.
Campbell’s action on GMO labeling is in line with recent moves by the company to increase its organic product offerings and remove artificial colors and flavors from nearly all of its products.
Campbell’s announcement was welcomed by GMO labeling supporters who said it will significantly boost efforts to achieve mandatory labeling nationwide.
“Just Label It applauds Campbell for their decision to support mandatory GMO labeling. Consumers simply want a factual disclosure on the package, and we are hopeful that Congress can craft a national GMO labeling solution in the coming months. Thanks to Campbell’s leadership, we are closer to reaching that goal,” said Gary Hirshberg, chairman of Stonyfield Farm and chairman of Just Label It.
“We applaud Campbell Soup for their independent, pro-consumer move and look forward to achieving a national, mandatory GMO labeling requirement on all food packaging,” said Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives for Consumers Union.
US Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), who supports mandatory GMO labeling legislation, said: “Campbell’s decision to add GMO labeling to their products is a courageous, commendable act of pro-consumer leadership—a move that lives up to the company’s “Mmm Mmm Good” motto.”
Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, believes that other food companies will follow Campbell’s lead because they are tired of being targeted by activists and spending money to oppose GMO labeling. “Their view of it is, why should they carry Monsanto’s water?” Kimbrell said in an interview with AgriPulse.