Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Did the Maker of SpaghettiOs Just Punk the Anti-GMO Movement?
The Campbell Soup Company says it will go ahead and label foods that contain GMO ingredients, breaking industry ranks on the issue holding up wider adoption of agricultural biotechnology.
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 trump 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 it calls a “Smart Label" — a code on food packages that shoppers can hold their smartphones up to and link to a website that reveals whether the food contains GM ingredients. Food companies can participate if they want to. Small wonder that a voluntary system, that doesn't put the information right on the label, is unsatisfactory to GMO opponents, who hope that labels right on the product will frighten people away from buying such foods and kill off the entire technology.
Campbell's break with the GMA is huge. Finally a major food company is saying what many GMO pundits (myself included) have been saying for some time; while there is no scientific basis or health reason to require labeling, (which Campbell's makes clear in its explanation of its decision), it's time to get this distracting fight out of the way, let consumers choose, and let society sort out the actual pros and cons of the various applications of agricultural biotechnology. And the right way to do labeling is under a federal requirement that provides one consistent system instead of a patchwork of different rules in different states, which would be a nightmare for national companies to comply with.
Campbell's action is also breaking important new ground with its bet that labels won't scare consumers away. As research has shown, most people don't read labels, and many that do assume that if something is on the label, it must be okay. And as the psychology of risk perception predicts, when you give someone choice, it reduces any fear or worry they may have. Voluntary risks scare people less than risks which feel imposed, like eating something that contains an ingredient you don't know about.
Bravo to Campbell's, then, for bravely moving past the Fear of Fear (credit to Peter Sandman for the phrase) that most companies suffer from — the fear that anything that might prompt the slightest bit of concern in any consumer is to be avoided at all costs, for fear of losing even a penny of profit. That Fear of Fear has kept the retail food industry locked in a futile fight resisting mandatory GMO labeling, a fight that is not only costing the industry public trust and millions of dollars in political campaigning and lobbying, but also impeding wider adoption of agricultural biotechnology generally.
Campbell's is saying enough is enough. Like a growing number of companies inside the food industry, Campbell's has campaign fatigue on the issue. It's tired of spending money on it. In fact, it plainly says it won't anymore:
"We will continue to be a member of GMA and will participate in food industry initiatives that align with our Purpose and business goals. However, as a result of the change in our position on GMO labeling, Campbell is withdrawing from all efforts led by groups opposing mandatory GMO labeling legislation, including those led by GMA."
And like a growing number of companies, Campbell's wants certainty. It needs to know where things stand, and it needs to know soon, because the Vermont labeling law takes effect in July (the GMA is suing to overturn the Vermont law) and to get products on the shelves then food companies have to start making decisions now about everything from buying their raw materials to what their labels will say.
Which brings us back to SpaghettiOs (which provided way too much of my nutrition growing up). Campbell's says that if federal rules aren't adopted soon, it will just go ahead and label their products on their own. And SpaghettiOs is the example it uses to illustrate what its label would say.
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 of 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's 200-plus 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.
Image: Getty Images, Robyn Beck AFP
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Philosophers have been asking the question for hundreds of years. Now neuroscientists are joining the quest to find out.
- The debate over whether or not humans have free will is centuries old and ongoing. While studies have confirmed that our brains perform many tasks without conscious effort, there remains the question of how much we control and when it matters.
- According to Dr. Uri Maoz, it comes down to what your definition of free will is and to learning more about how we make decisions versus when it is ok for our brain to subconsciously control our actions and movements.
- "If we understand the interplay between conscious and unconscious," says Maoz, "it might help us realize what we can control and what we can't."
Puerto Rico's iconic telescope facilitated important scientific discoveries while inspiring young scientists and the public imagination.
- The Arecibo Observatory's main telescope collapsed on Tuesday morning.
- Although officials had been planning to demolish the telescope, the accident marked an unceremonious end to a beloved astronomical tool.
- The Arecibo radio telescope has facilitated many discoveries in astronomy, including the mapping of near-Earth asteroids and the detection of exoplanets.
Bradley Rivera via twitter.com<p>In 1963, the concave dish was built into a natural sinkhole on the northern coast of Puerto Rico. The location was <a href="https://www.space.com/20984-arecibo-observatory.html" target="_blank">picked because it was near the equator,</a> providing scientists a clear view of planets passing overhead, and also of the ionosphere, which is the uniquely reactive layer of Earth's upper atmosphere where the northern lights form.</p><p>Since its construction, scientists have used the Arecibo telescope to map near-Earth asteroids, detect gravitational waves, study pulsars, detect exoplanets and <a href="https://www.seti.org/goodbye-arecibo" target="_blank">search for alien civilizations</a>, among other projects. Here's a brief look at some of the discoveries and accomplishments made using the Arecibo telescope:</p><ul><li>1964: Astronomer <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Pettengill" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Gordon Pettengill</a> discovers that Mercury's rotation period is 59 days, significantly shorter than the previous prediction of 88 days.</li><li>1974: Physicists Russell Alan Hulse and Joseph Hooton Taylor Jr. discovers the first binary pulsar, for which they won a Nobel Prize in Physics.</li><li>1974: Scientists use the telescope to transmit the "Arecibo message" to <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Globular_Cluster_in_Hercules" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">globular star cluster M13</a>. The message, when translated into image form, contains basic information about humanity and human knowledge: the numbers one to 10, a map of our solar system, an illustration of a human being, and the atomic numbers of certain elements.</li><li>1989: Scientists use the telescope to image an asteroid for the first time.</li><li>1992: Astronomers Alex Wolszczan and Dale Frail become the first to discover exoplanets.</li></ul>
The Google-owned company developed a system that can reliably predict the 3D shapes of proteins.