Alright, tell me which of you weren’t stunned by the Campbell Soup Co. announcement that it supports federal legislation establishing a single mandatory labeling standard for foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs)?
I’d even venture to say that this had more shock value than Mars announcing last year that it would support the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s efforts to include added sugars on labeling. Yeah, that’s how major this policy shift is.
The rationale behind Campbell’s move: consumers. As the maker of soups, crackers, cookies, tomato sauces, salsa and a host of other products explained in its press release, “With 92 percent of Americans supporting the labeling of GMO foods, Campbell believes now is the time for the federal government to act quickly to implement a federal solution.”
Not only does the company advocate a mandated GMO labeling solution by the federal government to ensure a uniform playing field for all — as opposed to a patchwork of state laws addressing GMO concerns — it’s also withdrawing “from all efforts led by coalitions and groups opposing such measures.”
That mostly refers to the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) stance, which while advocating a uniform GMO labeling policy, prefers that such an effort be voluntary. “So big deal?” you might say, “So what if a key member of Big Food takes a different stance? It’s one gold fish swimming against the current.”
First off, this isn’t just one small gold fish; it’s a whale of a food giant. From my perspective, the move suggests to me that Campbell is more attuned than most to the changing U.S. food landscape. We’re not in the 1950s anymore shopping with June Cleaver (Beaver’s mother). There are more “foodies” out there than ever before, with more choices than ever before.
Moreover, some speculate that the move is a bit self-serving. A Wall Street Journal article reported that Campbell CEO Denise Morrison has said that “consumers’ growing distrust of Big Food is detrimental to the soup giant and the industry as a whole.” As a result, Morrison “has made an effort to win back American moms.”
That effort includes acquiring small organic manufacturers as well as a renewed commitment to a “Consumer First” mindset, which emphasizes transparency in food ingredients.
So the question is, would mandatory GMO labeling hurt mainstream manufacturers? And would such a move tremendously increase costs?
Morrison herself doesn’t believe the move would be that costly. As she told the New York Times, the 1990 Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, which required companies to add nutritional information to their labels, did not significantly raise costs.
As to consumers rejecting products made with GMO ingredients? Well, there are definitely people that strongly believe GMOs are bad and simply stay from products made with such ingredients. At the same time, there’s no existing evidence that GMOs cause anyone harm.
Campbell Soup itself, “continues to recognize 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. The company also believes technology will play a crucial role in feeding the world.”
Besides, I’ve read about surveys that indicate only slightly more than one-third of Americans polled can explain what GMO means. Nonetheless, perception can play a role in choosing a product. But so can price point.
Personally, I don’t see GMO labelling causing a vast dropoff in products made with GMO ingredients. Moreover, I do see opportunities for companies offering items that are GMO-free. And that certainly includes the confectionery side.
I’d say the writing — or should I say labeling — is on the wall of things to come.