Reaction to the recent decision by Campbell Soup Company to voluntarily label all of their products containing genetically modified ingredients has been mixed. Those opposed to the use of GMOs and supporters of labeling efforts have been thrilled at this decision by a major national brand. However, those same activists are less happy about Campbell’s clear and unequivocal statements that it still believes, and science supports, that GMOs are safe. Of course, on the flip side, people like me are relieved to at least hear the company acknowledge the safety of biotech crops, even if we’re disappointed the company will now label their products.
Along with committing to voluntarily labeling all their products containing GMO ingredients, Campbell has also decided that it will support a mandatory, national GMO label imposed by the federal government. Citing the problems associated with state-by-state labeling schemes, Campbell’s president said in a statement that such laws are inconsistent and difficult for companies to comply with.
But why would a company that was so heavily invested in the anti-labeling movement make such a decision? Let’s explore….
The Real Agenda of Labeling Activists
Campbell is a member of the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA). The GMA is heavily involved in opposing GMO labeling campaigns and have spent a lot of money fighting these efforts. Until now, Campbell has been a participant in these efforts.
Which is one thing that makes the decision by Campbell a little odd.
While labeling advocates tout a “right to know” slogan, those behind the labeling movement have admitted that the end game of GMO labeling is to ban all biotechnology. The idea is that consumers will see the label declaring a product contains GMO ingredients, associate GMOs with something bad, and choose a non-GMO option. It seems odd then that Campbell would make this decision, potentially risking sales and their bottom line, especially when they have made it unequivocally clear that the company still believes GMOs are safe, and that such a position is substantially supported by science.
But, that wouldn’t be so strange if Campbell could offer those customers that were afraid to consume GMOs an alternative…
Expanding the Organic Line
If you’re a television watcher, you may have noticed that Campbell has been airing commercials touting their organic line. Although the company has had an organic line for years, they’ve been expanding it, and recently updated the look of their organic products.
It does seem a bit convenient that Campbell upgraded the look of their organic line, as well as launching a big PR campaign right before making this announcement. A customer that picks up a Campbell product, doesn’t like the fact that it contains GMOs and wants a different option will now have one right in front of them – and they won’t even have to change soup brands!
Of course, this is a huge win for Campbell, because they don’t lose a customer. Rather, they’ve converted a regular customer into a customer paying for a premium priced product (as most organic products are…). So, why not try to convert regular customers into premium customers?
Will It Matter?
So, now that Campbell’s has added a GMO label to their products, and everyone gets their “right to know,” does that mean that those calling for labeling will suddenly start purchasing Campbell’s products? Campbell’s certainly seems to think so and is reveling in the esteem it has been shown following the decision to include a label.
But in reality, no.
Because the point in having a GMO label is so those people can avoid purchasing those products. People like Food Babe aren’t going to start purchasing and eating foods with genetically modified ingredients in them, simply because there is a label telling them that those ingredients are present. In fact, now they’re less likely to do so. Of course, this belies the fact that these people wouldn’t purchase canned soup anyway, because they don’t think it’s healthy enough.
I’ve already reported how someone like Food Babe operates in these type of situations. She starts to put pressure on companies, such as Subway, to make a specific change to their food. Once the company makes the change, thinking that Food Babe and her followers will now be happy with their products, they find out that these people cannot be appeased. Now, they just want more.
If anything, Campbell managed to win some love and appreciation by these activists, even if they didn’t win them over as customers. As long as Campbell continued to support GMA’s efforts to fight labeling, the company had a target on its back. It was going to draw the wrath of the people that hate GMOs, and maybe they were just sick and tired of hearing about it all the time. Maybe they thought it was better to put the label on there, and drop the bad press.
An Opportunity to Educate?
There is one final piece of this puzzle I want to address specifically. One thing that definitely shouldn’t get lost in this discussion is that Campbell in no way disputes that GMOs are safe. In fact, the company insists that biotechnology is a safe method of plant breeding and it in no way disputes this. The company has an entire section on its website, What’s In My Food, dedicated to letting people know that GMOs are safe.
Furthermore, in the company’s press release announcing its decision, it stated:
Campbell 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.
While this has been enough to appease some people, it doesn’t really cut it with me. Websites do matter and it’s important that they provide accurate information. The more accurate information about GMOs that are available the better. Unfortunately, I’m not sure the impact of such a website is very great, especially when compared to the exposure that a GMO label will have.
How many people will honestly log onto Campbell’s website? How many people will actually take the time to read the information? How many will care?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad Campbell has made an effort to get this information out there. However, I see this as a pretty poor attempt to support genetically modified crops and the “crucial role” the technology will play in feeding the world when it has now decided to become buddies with Food Babe and her followers.
Sorry, but a nice website is just not good enough.
Overall, I’m disappointed that Campbell took this route. I understand the need to do something when you want reinvigorate your company and get haters off of your back, but I don’t think this is the answer.
I do, however, think this this was a very calculated public relations move for the company. They managed to appease activists (for the moment). Although these people will never be customers, at least they will stop the negative comments and propaganda against the company. In addition, the company has expanded their organic line to swoop up any customers that notice the GMO label and decide they don’t want to purchase such a product. On the other hand, Campbell believes it has appeased agriculture and the GMA by insisting GMOs are safe in their press releases and creating their website insisting the same. All the while, Campbell no longer has to pay the great sums of money to oppose labeling efforts.
Overall, the company thinks this is a win-win.
I’ll admit it seems like a great strategy, even if I don’t think they fully understand the loud non-GMO minority or the movement. Again, I’m disappointed at this decision. At the end of the day, however, I think the market will make the final decision and I’ll be closely following the outcome.