Whether or not you believe that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are safe for human consumption, the fact remains that the majority of American consumers support the labeling of GMO foods. Genetically engineered crops might be here to stay, but even so, it may be in the industry’s best interest to label products that contain them.
This opinion was recently expressed by Campbell Soup President and CEO Denise Morrison in an open letter to employees, in connection with a big company announcement: Campbell will disclose the presence of GMOs on product labels across their portfolio, and strongly supports federal legislation to make GMO labeling mandatory.
“Put simply, although we believe that consumers have the right to know what’s in their food, we also believe that a state-by-state piecemeal approach is incomplete, impractical and costly to implement for food makers. More importantly, it’s confusing to consumers,” Morrison states in the letter.
The announcement means that Campbell will become the first major food company to disclose the genetically engineered ingredients in all of its products, nationwide. Whole Foods is aiming for full GMO transparency by 2018, while other food companies have decided to eliminate GMO ingredients entirely or for certain products: Ben & Jerry’s committed to switching all 50 of its flavors to non-GMO, Fairtrade International-certified ingredients, and General Mills has sought Non-GMO Project certifications for Cheerios, Grape Nuts, and other products.
Campbell’s labeling change is expected to take 12 to 18 months.
The decision came in part due to pending legislation from Vermont that the company says will create confusion for consumers. The State’s law will required Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-regulated products to be labeled when they may contain ingredients made from GMO crops, but holds no bearing on products regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), such as meat and poultry.
“A state-by-state patchwork of laws could be incredibly costly not only for our company but for the entire industry,” Morrison added in an interview with The New York Times. “That’s why we want the federal government to come up with a national standard that is mandatory.”
Campbell’s did not mention any intentions to remove GMO ingredients from any of its products. The company insisted that it recognizes “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.”
In fact, the move could effectively quiet many anti-GMO movement voices if Campbell is able to influence other big players in the industry and/or national legislation. As author and consultant David Ropeik points out, if labeling becomes mandatory, consumers will have the choice to purchase GMOs or to avoid them – which is one of the main demands of those opposed to GMOs. In effect, Ropeik argues that opponents will have less to advocate for. More interestingly, he also notes that GMO labeling could reassure consumers more than scare them away.
And in the meantime, Campbell is getting great press and applause for its GMO labeling leadership.