Campbell Soup Says GE Food Is Safe, Endorses Mandatory GE Labeling to Preempt States with Weak Language
(Beyond Pesticides, January 12, 2016) Late last week in a precedent-setting move, Campbell Soup Company announced its support for federal mandatory labeling of foods containing genetically engineered (GE) ingredients. If such labeling does not come soon, the company also indicated it is prepared to voluntarily label all products it produces that contain GE ingredients. Agri-Pulse reported, “Campbell made clear that it still supported the use of genetic engineering in agriculture but said that there is a need for national labeling standards that would preempt state standards.”
Campbell’s President and CEO Denise Morrison, ““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 seedsare not nutritionally different from other foods,” Morrison wrote.” Ms. Morrison said that the company is against a patchwork of regulation across the states. In its release Campbell issues a sample label, which states: “Partially produced with genetic engineering. For more information about GMO ingredients visit WhatsinMyFood.com.”
Prior to the announcement, Campbell Soup’s membership to the umbrella group the Grocery Manufacturers Association pitted it against consumer, health, and environmental organizations, and the over 90% of Americans that support mandatory GE labeling and want to know the ingredients in the food they eat. However, in a press release issued by Campbell’s, the company states, “As a result of its decision to support mandatory national GMO labeling, Campbell will withdraw from all efforts led by coalitions and groups opposing such measures.”
While the company continues to assert tired claims that GE crops are critical to “feeding the world,” the change marks the first breaking of ranks among the conventional food industry at a time when Congress is intensely debating the merits of a federal GE food labeling scheme. In July of last year, the House of Representatives passed a bill, HR 1599, aptly referred to as the Deny Americans the Right to Know, or DARK Act, which would preempt (disallow) states from requiring GE labeling, and only allow voluntary labeling by food companies. While the Senate held hearings on the issue in October, it was not included as a rider in an omnibus federal spending bill passed at the end of the year, despite intensive lobbying from the conventional food and chemical industry.
Things have heated up at the federal level after Vermont became the first state to require mandatory GE labeling in 2014. Ballot initiatives in California, Washington State, Oregon, and Colorado were all rejected in close votes after chemical companies poured millions of dollars in TV ads to discredit the efforts. Maine and Connecticut also passed legislation in 2014 on GE labeling, however, these laws contain a “trigger clause” that delays implementation until similar legislation is passed in neighboring states, including one bordering state in the case of Connecticut. Vermont’s policy had been the subject of a legal challenge from the GMA, Snack Food Association, International Dairy Foods Association, and National Association of Manufacturers; the organizations claimed that current federal law preempted the state from enacting mandatory labeling requirements. However, after Vermont won the legal challenge, industry shifted its strategy to stop the implementation of the law by pushing for passage of the DARK Act.
Beyond Pesticides believes that consumers have a right to know whether the foods they buy contain GE ingredients not only because of concerns over the safety of eating GE food, but also because of the direct and indirect effects of GE agriculture on the environment, wildlife, and human health. GE agriculture is associated with the increased use of herbicides —particularly glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup— that crops are developed to tolerate. In light of the recent findings by International Agency for Research on Cancer’s (IARC) that glyphosate is a human carcinogen based on laboratory animal test data, consumers have even more cause for concern about the health risks that these products pose.
As most GE crops are developed either for herbicide tolerance, or to produce their own insecticide through “plant incorporated protectants,” (PIPs), the problem of pest resistance is significant and growing. EPA’s Office of Pesticide Program indicated to a Senate panel that it registers “plant incorporated protectants,” (PIPs) in 86 GE crops and acknowledged pest resistance problems. Insects that are the target of the engineered plant develop resistance, putting farmers’ crops at risk because of their dependency on the technology. In 2012, Washington State University researcher Charles Benbrook, Ph.D. found that the use of herbicides in the production of three genetically engineered herbicide-tolerant crops (cotton, soybeans and corn) has increased, contrary to industry claims that biotechnology will reduce pesticide applications. According to a series of studies in the journal Weed Science, at least 21 different species of weeds Monsanto’s “Roundup-Ready” crops, which leads to an increase in pesticide use to try to combat resistance, increasing dependency on a failed system.
As GE technology advances, farmers are increasingly threatened with crop loss, as was the argument made by Texas cotton farmers in 2014 when 3 million acres of GE cotton was threatened by weed resistance to Monsanto’s herbicide-tolerant Roundup. The state of Texas, on behalf of the farmers, requested that EPA allow the use of a triazine herbicide not registered for use on cotton under an emergency exemption (Section 18 of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act), but EPA denied the request because it said that exposure to triazines, linked to hermaphroditism in frogs, “already show[s] unacceptable risk levels.”
Campbell’s push for mandatory labeling may not explicitly recognize the aforementioned problems with GE crops, as the company reasons that it prefers one federal standard to a variety of state-level requirements, but it does reflect the fact that a growing number of consumers are aware of the unaccounted costs of GE agriculture. This is exemplified through the exponential rise the organic food market. Organic agriculture identifies genetic engineering as an “excluded method” and prohibits its use in certified organic production. In the absence of a mandatory label on GE foods, and for many other reasons, consumers can go organic to ensure their food dollars support a safe, ethical, and environmentally sound food and farming system.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.