In January 2016, Campbell’s announced that it was supporting mandatory national labeling for genetically modified organisms (GMO) products and any that contain GMOs (1).
The action Campbell’s has taken with voluntary GMO labeling was welcome news to watchdog groups like Environmental Working Group (EWG). In response, the EWG set-up a page on its website for consumers to send a digital “thank you” to Campbell’s (2).
EWG senior vice president of government affairs, Scott Faber said, “We applaud Campbell’s for supporting national, mandatory GMO labeling and we look forward to working with Campbell’s and other food leaders to craft a national GMO labeling solution. Consumers simply want the right to know what’s in their food and how it’s grown — just like consumers in 64 other nations” (3).
Faber pointed out that nine out of 10 American consumers want the right to know what’s in their food and “want a GMO disclosure on the food package.” He finished by saying, “Campbell’s should be applauded for trusting consumers to do their homework and make the choices that reflect their values.”
92% of Consumers Want GMO Labeling and Campbell Complies
With other food companies fighting tooth and nail to prevent GMO labeling, Campbell’s stepped out of the clamoring masses to stand up for what consumers want. Stating it’s an effort to be transparent, CEO Morrison reiterated that the company was unleashing its “Purpose, Real food that matters for life’s moments.”
Denise Morrison, President and CEO of Campbell’s, shared the company’s decision in an open letter to employees.
“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.”
Morrison wrote that the company is also operating with the mindset that puts the “Consumer First”. She reminded employees that “We put the consumer at the center of everything we do. That’s how we’ve built trust for nearly 150 years” (1).
Morrison further wrote, “We have always believed that consumers have the right to know what’s in their food.” To make sure this remains a company truism, she acknowledges that “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.”
Campbell’s CEO Morrison proposed a national federal non-GMO standard for all food packaging. When their competitors are still struggling against the wave of consumer demands, Campbell’s appears wise enough to understand that the way to satisfy and therefore keep loyal customers is to give them what they want. In this case, it’s transparency of what’s in their food.
In fact, Morrison states that Campbell’s has “declared our intention to set the standard for transparency in the food industry.” It’s clear that Campbell’s doesn’t feel GMOs are harmful as many GMO opponents do.
Campbell’s Uses and Supports GMOs
Morrison sates, “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.”
She further states, “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.” In their effort to be transparent to consumers, Campbell’s website, “f v” is a platform for discussing the various ingredients in their products. GMO crops used in their foods are openly discussed.
Morrison admits that the company’s move toward greater transparency through GMO labeling for their foods, “sets a new bar for transparency.” As part of this effort towards transparency, Campbell’s also supports digital disclosure through the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s (GMA) SmartLabel™ program (4).
This program allows shoppers to scan a Quick Response Code (QR code). The information revealed is up to each of the companies participating; so far around 30 companies are using this program. It’s possible that not all companies will be disclosing GMOs since it’s all voluntary.
Morrison serves on the board of the GMA. Will her role in Campbell’s move to be transparent spill over into the GMA and its membership? The GMA’s SmartLabel program could be good news for consumers wanting mandatory GMO labeling.
GMA Has Fought GMO Labeling
The program may seem like a conflict to GMA’s past, since the association has fought vehemently against mandatory GMO labeling, citing it would be too expensive. In a July 2015, TSW reported that, “The GMA (Grocery Manufacturers Association) used a Cornell University professor’s study to push the new law [DARK Act] by citing that the study proved GMO labeling requirements would ‘increase grocery prices for a family of four by as much as $500 per year and cost food and beverage manufacturers millions of dollars to change food labels and supply chain systems’.”
Yet, the food industry spares no expense to fight that “expensive labeling” which it used as one of the arguments against mandatory labeling. In April 2015, The Hill reported that “The food industry spent $63M to fight mandatory GMO labeling laws.” In 2014, the GMA spent $5.8M for lobbying against GMO labeling. PepsiCo spent $4M to fight mandatory labeling, twice as much as it spent in 2013 (5).
In March 2014, PR Watch reported how GMA worked in 2013 to “stop the Washington State ballot to label GE foods”. GMA took the stand against mandatory GMO and GE food labeling and was backed by companies like Coca-Cola, Nestle and Pepsi (6).
EWG’s Libby Foley reported, “We know labeling won’t increase food prices.” A Huffington Post article stated that food companies edit and change labels all the time, so the argument that it would be too expensive to accommodate GMO information simply isn’t true (7).
Campbell’s move to provide transparency to its customers could be the crack in the dark armor of GMO food companies. Consumers have asked why companies fight so hard to hide what’s in their foods if GMOs are so harmless.
That question has never been answered, but Campbell’s has taken it off the table by doing what their customers want. This move gives Campbell’s an advantage over their competitors who are still resisting customer will.
Do you think this is a sign that food companies are finally understanding that their consumers – the people who purchase the companies’ foods – are serious about wanting and needing GMO labels? Will Campbell’s example be followed by other food companies to give their customers what they demand?