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General Mills’ Cheerios Facebook Page Morphs into an Anti-GMO Campaign

Leon Kaye | Monday December 10th, 2012 | 14 Comments
General Mills, General Mills Facebook, Facebook, Cheerios Facebook, Cheerios, GMOs, genetically modified, genetically modified organisms, proposition 37, GMOInside,

Anti-GMO advocates are heckling General Mills via Facebook

In yet another social media campaign that turned into a “Be Careful What You Wish For” episode, anti-GMO campaigners have hijacked General Mills‘  Cheerios Facebook page. What was supposed to be a warm-and-fuzzy page dedicated to childhood odes to Cheerios has turned into an anti-GMO (genetically modified organism) rant.

GMOInside, which describes itself as a coalition of organizations set to launch a “safe food campaign,” complete with its own Facebook page, is behind these shenanigans. Caught flat-footed, General Mills should have taken a page from other companies whose social media campaigns went haywire. For example, look how McDonald’s #McDStories unraveled earlier this year. When you ask for stories, you may open a can so full of worms that the lid will never close again. Safeway also had a rough time this spring when calls for adoring comments about its deli and produce became catcalls about the company’s dubious firing of a heroic employee.

In the case of GMOInside, the catalyst for the massive heckling of General Mills came as a response to the company’s contribution of $1.1 million to the anti-Proposition 37 campaign in California. Granted that sum is smaller than those from Monsanto and PepsiCo, but General Mills alone spent more money on the Prop 37 campaign than the most generous contributor to the pro-37 side, Mercola.com.

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Anti-GMO comments on Cheerios’ Facebook page

The trouble started when General Mills launched a smartphone app that allowed users to comment about what the Cheerios brand meant to them. Those messages, which were transcribed into that classic Cheerios font, ended up on the brand’s Facebook page. But since late November, the GMOInside coalition has urged its followers to send messages to General Mills via that app. The cereal giant, in turn, removed the app’s link from its Facebook page, but the damage has been done.

The Cheerios Facebook page is less a wall of tributes from the 1960s and 1970s and is now smothered in anti-GMO comments, riddled with jeers from customers saying they will no longer purchase the cereal until the company answers questions about its ingredients. Advice about where to find non-GMO alternatives to Cheerios abound; Trader Joe’s may want to send a (non-GMO) fruit basket to GMOInside’s office to thank them for new business when the ruckus finally calms down.

Consumers focused on the issue of transparency and right-to-know, and less on the “Frankenfood” argument that often muddies the debate over GMOs, may raise an eyebrow over this spat. The oats themselves are not in question; but the sugar, corn starch, wheat starch and Vitamin E are described by the GMOInside coalition “are likely to be derived from GMOs.” The upshot is, we do not know for sure whether General Mills is using biotech ingredients in its classic cereal. Plus, the claim that 90 percent of Americans want GMO labeling is quite a stretch: the trouncing Prop 37 suffered on Election Day shows the argument is much more nuanced.

But the lesson for General Mills and other large food companies is that transparency, not trivial marketing messages, are what consumers now demand. Until consumers are assured that GMOs are safe, the push to suppress any disclosure over GMOs will only create more suspicion and scorn. Meanwhile, the fact that most industrialized countries have required GMO labeling demonstrates that food companies actually are casting away business opportunities: more consumers globally lean towards non-GMO foods if they know for certain that is the truth about their favorite products. And here in the U.S., long lines at the Whole Food and Trader Joe’s checkout counters are just one example of where customers are quick to spend their money.

Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable BusinessInhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).

Image credit: GMOInside and Cheerios‘ Facebook pages.


▼▼▼      14 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  • http://www.facebook.com/pmsheldon Paul Sheldon

    Great article, except the word “trouncing” — final tally on prop 37 was 48.5%.in favor–hardly a trouncing, more votes than many candidates, nationwide, and sufficient to catalyze a national campaign. See
    http://ballotpedia.org/wiki/index.php/California_Proposition_37,_Mandatory_Labeling_of_Genetically_Engineered_Food_(2012)
    Paul Sheldon,
    California

    • http://twitter.com/LeonKaye Leon Kaye

      Bah! This was a humiliating defeat.

  • Obi Wan DeLorean

    Very interesting stuff… the question is – is GMills listening? If GMills doesn’t have a problem with GMOs then that’s their progressive and they should boldly come out with a statement about it. I’m fairly certain that most people who eat processed breakfast cereal really don’t care. GMills could say “yes, GMOs are great, we’re full of ‘em and we’re cool with that”…

    Some people (likely not their customers) would raise a stink, but then it would die down.

    Anyway, I agree with Leon. When you’re in a controversial arena, don’t be trite in the messaging.

    • http://twitter.com/LeonKaye Leon Kaye

      I giggle when I see these warm and fuzzy campaigns turn into gifts that keep on giving!

  • Rafi

    Yeah, definitely not a trouncing, given that the No side outspent the Yes side by 9 to 1. A barrage of misleading ads led to the measure’s defeat, so it is not accurate to take the voting percentage on prop 37 as some measure of the public’s concern about GMOs. Please choose your words carefully.

  • Circle A

    GMO POISON SHAME ON YOU GENERAL MILL’S VOTED NO PROP.37 SELLING
    MONSANTO’S CHEERIOS. DO YOU KNOW WHAT GMO’S DO? 1 IS INFERTILITY 2CANCERS 3 PERVERTING LIFE, IF YOU ARE SUPPORTING GMO’S IS THIS WHAT YOUR
    PROMOTING FOR HEALTHY FAMILIES? PRETTY NOT HEALTHY!!!!!

    • http://www.triplepundit.com Nick Aster

      Please spare us the all caps.

  • http://www.facebook.com/shelton.henderson Shelton Henderson

    You really can’t call the “defeat” a trouncing(or a defeat for that matter). What company can afford to piss off 6 million potential customers their family and friends and so on and so on and so on? Every trick in the book was and is being used…in the end you have the ultimate vote with our pocketbooks.

  • marshall

    $45m spent by big pharm for NO to prop 37 and 52% of the vote v $10m spent on YES by others and 48% of the vote, yet mr. kaye not only uses “trounce” in his article, he petulantly defends his hyperbolic use of it in these comments. smh…

  • waraji

    Prop 37 was the closest race of all the California propositions. At last count, only a 3 % spread, meaning 1.5 % away from winning, or they were 1.5% away from losing. This may tighten up by the time the Secretary of State certifies the results on Dec. 14. …and who knows, some big mistakes may be found by then.

  • Chris

    Prop 37 was almost a 50/50 vote, in fact, we STILL don’t know if it was defeated as they are still counting absentee ballots, even though they are supposed to be finished by now. The election will most likely not be certified until early next year.

    Now, I am not saying that it will or won’t pass, but to say it has received a trouncing is just plain false.

    Additionally, we should keep in mind that it was very, very close, despite massive spending by the no side. Given how much money they were willing to spend, it should tell you something about how scared the pro GMO side was and still is. They know that a California standard would in effect be a national standard, as it wouldn’t be cost effective to make packaging specifically for California. This would lead people into looking at GMOs and how bad they really are for their health and the environment. This would lead to consumers not buying those products and unless Monsanto and the others changes their business model, they would end up closing their doors.

  • Sue

    General Mills, Kelloggs,etc, etc…did Monsanto buy out the FDA, why aren’t they stepping up and doing their job? We don’t let our children play with toys from China because of the lead content, but we will put poison in their food and say, “eat all your veggies so you’ll grow up strong and healthy,” …used to be.

    • JeffB

      The government won’t do anything because it’s about the almighty dollar. Monsanto, GMills and all the other companies involved could care less about the welfare of the people buying their product. They are massively wealthy companies. That gets you power in Washington. The government will side with the money. Sad but true.

  • Taylormade

    Shame on you General Mills. I don’t buy your cereals ANYMORE.