Campbell's Soup Announces Voluntary GMO Labelling

Photo: Courtesy of Campbell's Soup.
Last week, Campbell’s Soup announced plans to become the first major food company to list genetically modified ingredients in its products. Campbell’s, which also sells brands like Prego, Pepperidge Farm, and V8, will include a “sparsely worded” label stating that the product is genetically modified, according to The New York Times. The label, which will not include a list of the exact ingredients that are modified, will also direct buyers to its website, WhatisinMyFood.com.

Currently, three-fourths of the brand’s products contain GMOs, from crops like soybeans, corn, canola, and sugar beets, which are the most commonly genetically modified. The switch will take up to 18 months to implement, and marks a change in the company’s previous approach to GMO labeling. Previously, it worked with coalitions opposing mandatory labeling.

While the effects of greater transparency in relation to GMOs have yet to be seen, the Times article also notes that perhaps the last major shake-up in food labeling, 1990 Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, had no real effect on food prices. Similarly, a voluntary labeling program lead by food companies to make sugar, salt, fat, and calorie information more readily visible did not affect sales. Nor does displaying calorie information at fast food chains impact our purchasing choices much, according to one study.

The push for increased GMO labeling comes from consumer and environmental advocacy groups who claim that the true risks of GMOs are not properly understood, and consumers deserve to know what they're eating. However, a GMO label is a far cry from a cancer warning on cigarettes — to date, GMOs have had no proven negative effects on humans. That does not mean they are entirely harmless, however. Genetically modified crops can require an increase in herbicides and pesticides, which can be damaging to the environment. There are also questions about GMO seeds drifting onto non-GMO fields and crops, carried by the wind.

And while some food industry insiders still worry that advertising GMO ingredients may curb consumer buying (and they're spending a pretty penny to oppose it), many signs point to the fact that GMO transparency may change little for the average buyer. Still, knowledge of just how much genetically modified food we already consume could be enlightening.

Of course, as consumer strategist Carl Jorgensen notes in the article, GMO labeling is still very much “unchartered territory,” making Campbell’s announcement a big push into the brave new world of GMO transparency.

For more on genetically modified food, you can read our primer on GMOs.
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