The food industry has been battling the GMO labeling question, dumping millions of dollars into programs that aim to defeat local and state-wide votes for labels. One food maker - Campbell, know for soup but they make plenty more than that - isn't throwing in the towel on the issue, but last week decided to change the conversation.
The company announced that it supported a federal, single, mandatory labeling standard for foods derived from genetically modified organisms. As part of the move the company notes in a media statement it will withdraw from all efforts led by coalitions and groups opposing such measures. The company still opposes what it calls a patchwork of state by state labeling laws, which it "believes are incomplete, impractical and create unnecessary confusion for consumers."
In its statement, the company went one step further noting that if the federal solution isn't established in a reasonable amount of time it is prepared to label all of its U.S. products for the presence of ingredients that were derived from GMOs, not just those required by the pending legislation in Vermont. And the company would seek guidance from FDA and approval from USDA.
The company has already set up a website called What's in My Food aiming to answer questions about what's going on with its products. In the press statement the company notes that 92% of Americans support labeling of GMO foods.
Of course GMO opponents are convinced that if you label the food with the presence of GMOs then consumers will shun those products and seek what they claim are healthier alternatives. Hasn't worked for fat labeling or other nutrition labels. Sure some people will stop buying Campbell's Soup because it contains corn starch made from GMO corn. But the rest of this harried population of consumers isn't going to seek out the organic, non-GMO tomato soup to go with a grilled cheese sandwich, they're buying for price. So in the end Campbell could come out on top.
Farmer-blogger Ryan Goodman weighed in on his Agriculture Proud blog though he's not in favor of a national labeling standard. One point to make is that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has long opposed GMO labeling because in essence the corn is still corn, the soybeans still soybeans. It's not easy.
Essentially the science is sound despite the many negative comments made by people who pretty much shop only for organic food. Campbell knows that's not the key consumer for their product, the main consumer is the buyer who wants a quick, healthy meal that doesn't cost and arm and a leg - soup is nutritious, inexpensive and darn fast to fix.
This debate is far from over but from my perspective it's healthy to start leaning on the label and seeing where the market really goes. There will be upheaval at first, but longer term, the buyer will seek economical food choices. Note that when food prices go up most consumers complain - except those at Whole Foods, they've been paying higher prices already.
And as for what consumers will do when they find that label on the soup? Hopefully they'll go "hmm" and put the product in their grocery basket and be on their way. That's the right thing to do.