IN the 1960's, Andy Warhol made Cambell's Soup a Pop Art legend with his stylized paintings of the soup can logo. The Campbell's company, based in Camden and hailing from an era when the state was a manufacturing center, has long symbolized New Jersey's pride in a home-grown original.
But Campbell's is no longer the same can of soup.
Most obvious is the recently "modernized" appearance of the cans themselves. But, more subtly and more importantly, something has been added to what's inside, perhaps dangerously so.
The soy and corn in Campbell's soup have been genetically altered. The ingredients don't have the same basic genetic makeup as the vegetables that Campbell's bought from New Jersey farmers and turned into "good, wholesome, high-quality food," as its motto goes.
Few Americans are aware of the change. And Campbell's isn't prone to let us know.
Why should we care?
After all, Campbell's corn chowder still tastes pretty much the same as it did to our grandparents.
The answer is found in the Hippocratic oath: "First, do no harm."
Common sense tells us that, if a gene from a bacteria or fish is put into a vegetable that humans have been eating for hundreds of years, some people might have bad physical reactions to the change.
Unfortunately, little independent testing of that common sense has been done, and those few tests have had mixed results.
One recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that, when a Brazil nut's gene was engineered into soybeans, people with nut allergies would have harsh reactions to the food.
In addition, genetically engineered foods possess the ability to undermine the effectiveness of antibiotics. Because of this, British Medical Association has concluded that "there should be a ban on the use of antibiotic marker genes in genetically modified foods."
European consumers have expressed such strong concerns that Campbell's stopped using genetically engineered soy and corn in food it sells across the Atlantic.
Why, then, is Campbell's continuing to sell genetically engineered soups here while balking at labeling the food as genetically altered?
At root is the enormous influence on the food industry of a number of New Jersey's largest companies. In fact many of the leading producers of genetically engineered products are key participants in New Jersey's current economic boom and are the same chemical companies that sell toxic pesticides and herbicides -- Monsanto, DuPont and Aventis among them. These companies are genetically engineering plants to be resistant to the herbicides that they manufacture so they can in turn sell more herbicides. Herbicide-resistant crops prompt farmers to apply more herbicides to the land, threatening the safety of our drinking water and endangering wildlife.
In their public relations campaign, the biotechnology industry is claiming that genetically engineered foods will "feed the world."
In fact, according to an independent study conducted by Dr. Roger Elmore of the University of Nebraska, genetically engineered crops can result in less, not more, food to eat. For example, Monsanto's genetically engineered Round-Up Ready soybean seeds yielded 11 percent less than conventional soybean seeds.
What then to do?
At a minimum, Campbell's can give us a choice, by simply fully labeling its products. Next, the company can treat New Jerseyans the same as Europeans, by halting the sale of genetically engineered food until independent evironmental and health testing and labeling rules are in place.
It can then join Genetically Engineered Food Alert, a new coalition of public interest organizations, farmers, scientists, chefs and public health groups, in urging the federal Food and Drug Administration to establish the same policy for all genetically engineered food.
Its actions would be more than scientifically prudent. It would be smart marketing.
A poll conducted last year for Time Magazine and CNN showed that 81 percent of Americans wanted "genetically engineered foods labeled as such."
What better way to restore Campbell's soup cans to their iconic status as symbols of reliable nourishment for the masses than to bring back the soup that Andy Warhol knew not so long ago?
And, while they're at it, they might bring back the old cans, too -- but with a bit more information on them this time.
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Last Updated on 9/13/00