How does a company build trust? Campbell Soup and Monsanto appear to be going about it in quite different ways.
As reported in The New York Times, the Monsanto Company filed a lawsuit against California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) last Thursday in an effort to prevent that state agency from listing glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s flagship herbicide Roundup, as known to the state to cause cancer.
OEHHA is the government agency in California that implements the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 (AKA Proposition 65). This California state law requires that substances identified as human or animal carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an agency of the World Health Organization (WHO), be included on the state’s list.
As reported in The Lancet Oncology, the IARC had concluded last March that glyphosate causes cancer in lab animals and is also a probable human carcinogen.
Reuters reported soon thereafter that Monsanto was seeking to have the IARC’s report retracted.
Apparently, however, neither that tactic, nor Monsanto’s effort to convince the OEHHA to withdraw its proposal to list glyphosate as a known carcinogen, worked. Hence, the lawsuit: Monsanto Company v. Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, et al., filed in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Fresno.
According to Reuters, Monsanto argues that providing a “clear and reasonable warning” to consumers that glyphosate is known to cause cancer (a requirement that would go into effect upon listing) would damage its reputation and violate its First Amendment rights (presumably its right to refuse to “speak” about glyphosate in this manner).
I can’t help but contrast this argument to Campbell Soup Company’s commitment to both transparency and putting its customers first (expressed earlier this month when it called for mandatory federal labeling of foods “that may contain genetically modified organisms”).
“We put the consumer at the center of everything we do. That’s how we’ve built trust for nearly 150 years, explained Campbell’s President and CEO Denise Morrison in a message she delivered to Campbell employees in early January.
In my opinion, the Monsanto Company has a lot to learn about trust. Calling for retractions, refusing to label, and suing the California OEHHA over enforcement of a state law are certainly not going to engender it.
Better to follow in the footsteps of a company that has been around a while longer than Monsanto…the Campbell Soup Company. “For generations, people have trusted Campbell….” It’s time for the rest of “Big Food,” and the agricultural biotechnology industry in general, to put consumers first and start (re)building trust.
That game plan is bound to improve a reputation much more than suing California OEHHA.