Campbell Soup Co., breaking ranks with other major U.S. food producers, announced plans to cite genetically modified organisms on product packaging and threw its support behind efforts to create a single mandatory labeling standard.
The Camden, New Jersey-based company will support federal legislation that would require all foods and beverages regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and the Agriculture Department to be clearly labeled for GMOs, it said in a statement. Campbell Soup also will withdraw from all efforts led by groups opposing such measures.
Labeling standards for genetically modified food have become a hotly contested issue, with foodmakers fighting states such as Vermont, Maine and Connecticut that have proposed their own mandatory labeling laws.
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Campbell Soup “continues to oppose a patchwork of state-by-state labeling laws, which it believes are incomplete, impractical and create unnecessary confusion for customers,” according to the statement. The company “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.”
Vermont created a flashpoint for the industry in 2014, when the state passed a law requiring foodmakers to label GMOs on their products. Connecticut and Maine have legislation that is triggered when certain numbers of other states enact such requirements. Groups representing the packaged food industry have sued to block Vermont’s legislation.
The Vermont law, which is set to take effect in July, would impose a fine of $1,000 for violations. The labeling requirement wouldn’t apply to many food categories, including meat, milk, restaurant fare and raw agricultural commodities that aren’t grown with genetically modified seed. The rules also would ban foodmakers from advertising products as “natural” when they contain GMO ingredients.
The Grocery Manufacturers Association, a trade group that opposes mandatory GMO labeling, is suing to block the Vermont law. The GMA is also backing a bill in Congress that would ban states from requiring labels for genetically modified foods. The industry has argued that leaving the issue to the states could make it difficult for companies to navigate inconsistent rules across the country.
‘Respects the Rights’
“GMA respects the rights of our individual member companies to communicate to their customers in whatever manner they deem appropriate,” the association said in a statement. “It is imperative that Congress acts immediately to prevent the expansion of a costly patchwork of state labeling laws that will ultimately hurt consumers who can least afford higher food prices.”
Campbell, known for its canned tomato and mushroom soups, said it’s optimistic that a federal law can be enacted in a “reasonable amount of time.” Either way, the company said it’s prepared to label all its U.S. products for GMOs, not just those in Vermont. In addition to soup, Campbell’s lineup includes Goldfish crackers, Pace salsa and other items.
The move follows efforts by Campbell to eliminate artificial ingredients from its products, a response to shifting consumer tastes. The company plans to make all of its North American products without artificial colors or flavors by the end of fiscal 2018, which comes in the middle of that calendar year.