Why Campbell Broke With the Food Industry on GMO Labeling

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

Jan 19, 2016

Campbell Soup Co. surprised some when on Jan. 7 the company announced its support for the enactment of federal legislation to establish a single mandatory labeling standard for foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Campbell said it believes it's best for a national standard for GMO labeling requirements rather than potentially different ones in every state. As a result, the company said it will withdraw from all efforts led by coalitions and groups opposing such measures.

Campbell’s President and CEO Denise Morrison shared the message below with employees about the reasons behind the decision:

Taking a Major Step Forward as We Live Our Purpose

At Campbell, we are unleashing the power of our Purpose, Real food that matters for life’s moments. Our Purpose calls for us to acknowledge that consumers appreciate what goes into our food, and why — so they can feel good about the choices they make, for themselves and their loved ones.

Today [Jan. 7], consistent with our Purpose, we announced our support for mandatory national labeling of products that may contain genetically modified organisms (GMO) and proposed that the federal government provide a national standard for non-GMO claims made on food packaging.

We are operating with a “Consumer First” mindset. We put the consumer at the center of everything we do. That’s how we’ve built trust for nearly 150 years. We have always believed that consumers have the right to know what’s in their food. GMO has evolved to be a top consumer food issue reaching a critical mass of 92% of consumers in favor of putting it on the label.

In addition, we have declared our intention to set the standard for transparency in the food industry. We have been openly discussing our ingredients, including those derived from GMO crops, through our WhatsinmyFood.com website. We are supporting digital disclosure through the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s (GMA) SmartLabel program. We have announced the removal of artificial colors and flavors from our products. However, our support of mandatory federal GMO labeling sets a new bar for transparency.

There is currently no federal regulation requiring labeling that informs consumers about the presence of GMOs in their food. In the absence of federal action, many states — from California to Maine — have attempted to address this issue. Campbell has opposed this state-by-state patchwork approach, and has worked with GMA to defeat several state ballot initiatives. 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.

Most recently, Vermont passed legislation that will require food companies including Campbell to label products regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that may contain ingredients made from GMO crops. However, this legislation does not include products with meat or poultry, because they are regulated by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Under Vermont law, SpaghettiO’s original variety, guided by the FDA, will be labeled for the presence of GMOs, butSpaghettiO’s meatballs, guided by the USDA, will not. Yet these two varieties sit next to each other on a store shelf, which is bound to create consumer confusion.

Campbell has been actively involved in trying to resolve this issue since 2011. We’ve worked with GMA, legislators and regulators to forge a national voluntary solution. We’ve engaged a variety of stakeholders, from lawmakers to activists. I’ve personally made multiple trips to Capitol Hill to meet with elected officials. Despite these efforts, Congress has not been able to resolve this issue. We now believe that proposing a mandatory national solution is necessary. Printing a clear and simple statement on the label is the best solution for consumers and for Campbell.

I want to stress that we’re in no way disputing the science behind GMOs or their safety. The overwhelming weight of scientific evidence indicates that GMOs are safe and that foods derived from crops using genetically modified seeds are not nutritionally different from other foods. In America, many farmers who grow canola, corn, soybean and sugar beets choose to use genetically modified seeds and have done so for nearly twenty years. More than 90% of these four crops in America are currently grown using GMO seeds. It takes an average of 13 years to get a GMO seed approved by the government for safety. Ingredients derived from these crops are in many of our products. We also believe that GMOs and other technologies will play a crucial role in feeding the world.

We will continue to be a member of GMA and will participate in food industry initiatives that align with our Purpose and business goals. However, as a result of the change in our position on GMO labeling, Campbell is withdrawing from all efforts led by groups opposing mandatory GMO labeling legislation, including those led by GMA.

The New York Times reported on our decision, and we issued a press release. I encourage you to read both. We recognize that this announcement may spark discussion. It’s difficult to predict the exact nature of the ensuing commentary, but I suspect it will be a mixed bag. What I do know is that 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. I truly believe it is the right thing to do for consumers and for our business.

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