Will SpaghettiOs Be the Turning Point in the GMO Wars?

Will SpaghettiOs Be the Turning Point in the GMO Wars?

The fight over genetically modified food involves some pretty weighty issues: global food security, the pros and cons of corporate mass-scale agriculture, how society deals with risk management when a small group of passionate advocates dishonestly trumps up fears to promote their values. So it’s interesting to think that some time from now, when it’s likely that the fight has died down and agricultural biotechnology is in much wider use, that we may look back and realize that what helped turn the tide on this huge issue was… SpaghettiOs.

The Campbell Soup company, which sells SpaghettiOs (along with Goldfish, Pepperidge Farm cookies, V8 juice, and of course, Campbell soups), has called for mandatory federal labeling of foods that contain GM ingredients. Mandatory, as opposed to voluntary labeling, which is all the Grocery Manufacturers Association and most of its members publicly support. The GMA is developing what they call a

The print is pretty small but it says “Partially produced with genetic engineering.” Because that doesn’t mean much to most folks, the label also says “For more information about G.M.O. ingredients, visit WhatsinMyFood.com.”

That is precisely what the anti-GMO people have been demanding, and the anti-GMO group (largely funded by the organics industry) Just Label It applauded Campbell’s announcement.

Consumers simply want a factual disclosure on the package, not a warning, and we are hopeful that Congress can craft a national GMO labeling solution in the coming months. Thanks to Campbell’s leadership, we are closer to reaching that goal.

That applause from GMO opponents reveals why Campbell’s action could be a turning point in the entire fight about the use genetic engineering in agriculture. Either it pushes the government to adopt a labeling mandate – after Congress failed to act on one proposal last year USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack called a meeting of all the players for later this month to try and resolve the issue and avoid “chaos in the market” – or it puts Campbell’s GMO labeled products on the shelves, where they will probably sell just fine. And if Campbell’s gives consumers what they want, and sales are steady and it doesn’t cost the company much money, other companies also suffering GMO campaign fatigue, eager for certainty, and eager to demonstrate they’re giving consumers what they want, will surely follow suit.

And that will take the wind out of the biggest sail of the anti-GMO movement. Most opponents have staked their success on the labeling fight, claiming that all they want is to give consumers choice. If consumers get that choice, and buy those products, it will be tough for those advocates to then try to get GMOs banned some other way, or try to boycott all of Campbell’s popular products, trying to take away from consumers what they are choosing to buy.

Dissension has been growing within the Grocery Manufacturers Association 200+ members for months over the GMO labeling issue. The Campbell’s decision appears to be timed to bring that dissension to a head when the GMA holds a meeting on the issue this week. At stake is nothing less than the pace of development of agricultural biotechnology in the United States, which influences agriculture worldwide. An awful lot hangs in the balance as the GMA and Secretary Vilsack hold their meetings, and SpaghettiOs have become the symbolic fulcrum on which that balance currently rests.

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