Campbell Soup CEO defends GMO labeling

by Josh Sosland
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The company’s transparency efforts include the launch of a whatsinmyfood.com web site, aimed at sharing information about many Campbell Soup food products.

BOCA RATON, Fla. — While acknowledging bioengineered food ingredients are safe, pervasive and critical to sustainably feeding an expanding global population, the time is right for mandatory labeling of foods containing bioengineered ingredients, said Denise Morrison, president and CEO of Campbell Soup Co.

In a presentation Feb. 17 at the Consumer Analyst Group of New York conference at the Boca Raton Resort and Club, Morrison discussed Campbell Soup’s decision, announced in January, to support federal legislation to establish a single mandatory labeling standard for foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). 

Denise Morrison, Campbell
Denise Morrison, president and CEO

The sensitivity of the topic was reflected in how Morrison broached the subject. She led into the topic by discussing the company’s increasing transparency, including its launch of a whatsinmyfood.com web site, aimed at sharing information about many Campbell Soup food products.

“This commitment to transparency is an important step for Campbell, and it has played a critical role in a decision we recently made,” she said. “Let’s talk about the moose on the table. Everyone here knows that one of the most pressing issues facing the food industry is genetically modified organisms or GMO labeling. There has been a chorus of discord for years. Everyone also knows that the majority of Americans want GMOs labeled.”

Like the rest of the food industry, Campbell Soup in the past had advocated for a federal solution that would make GMO labeling voluntary and preempt state laws emerging in Vermont and elsewhere.

“But both the issue and Campbell has evolved,” Morrison told CAGNY. “In January, we announced our support for comprehensive federal legislation for mandatory national GMO labeling. The time has come for the federal government to level the playing field and provide food companies with clear direction, definitions and standards for disclosure. The time has come for a new level of transparency. The time has come for mandatory national standard for GMO labeling. If not, all of us will be faced with a patchwork of state laws.

“Along with the rest of the industry, Campbell strongly opposes the state by state approach. It is costly, it is impractical and it is confusing. Let’s be clear, the Vermont law is not helpful to consumers. It is incomplete, arbitrary and misleading. It doesn’t even require the labeling of USDA-regulated product and provides a lot of other loopholes.”

In addition to expressing her opposition to the Vermont law, Morrison also said Campbell’s decision was not about safety.

“We believe GMOs are safe,” she said. “The science tells us so. GMOs are pervasive in our food system. In fact, over 90 percent of canola, corn, soybean and sugar beets in America are grown using genetically modified seeds. These crops are used to make the foods we all eat every day and we will continue to use them in our food. We also believe the technology will play a crucial role in feeding the world on a sustainable basis.

“For us and for you, it is a simple question of transparency. This approach to transparency is allowing Campbell to engage in a different kind of dialogue with consumers and begin to address the issues that are most meaningful to them.”

Morrison said the company’s “dialogue with consumers” about issues important to them has accelerated efforts at Campbell to reformulate its products.

“At our Investor Day in July, we talked about removing certain artificial ingredients from our current portfolio,” she said. “Since then we have made many changes. We have put in place new product development requirements in our America Simple Meals and Beverages Division. We call it the no-go list, no artificial flavors or colors, no added preservatives, and no MSG. These ingredients will not be used in any new product we are creating in the Americas Division, and we will continue to look for ways to reduce our use of high-fructose corn syrup.”

Morrison placed the company’s efforts on ingredient reformulation into the context of a broader company effort to adopt a “real food design philosophy.”

She said the company, in pursuit of this philosophy, reflects on the values of its founder, John Dorrance, who asked:

“Are we using high-quality ingredients that people recognize that we would serve at our own table?

“Does our food taste and smell delicious?

“And is it affordable and accessible to most people?”

As it addresses these questions, Morrison said Campbell Soup will remain committed to great taste.

“Over the next several years, we will be making more meaningful changes in the ingredients we use and how we develop our products,” she said. “These changes are not easy. They require a great deal of ingenuity and resolve. But these changes are necessary to meet the increasing consumer appetite for good, healthy, affordable food and for us to live up to our purpose. Over time we believe these efforts will enable us to appeal to new generations of consumers that have far different tastes and expectations.”

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