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Non-GMO Cheerios: A Sign of the Future?

Jan Lee
Jan Lee | Wednesday January 8th, 2014 | 4 Comments

Cheerios (Old School)Environmentalists are calling it a victory. General Mills, however, says it’s just a recipe change.

In a recent blog post, GMO Inside.org took credit for General Mills’ statement last week that it was making its regular Cheerios out of non-genetically modified sources (GMOs) – a change from its other Cheerios products, which do contain GMOs.

“Cheerios’ principal ingredient has always been whole grain oats, and there are no GMO oats,” says General Mills.

That’s true. According to Quaker Oats, which is owned by Pepsico, it doesn’t use GMO oats, either. There are no GMO-friendly oats on the market.

But the sourcing change that has given environmental groups like GMO Inside reason to crow about isn’t the oats but those other, seemingly insignificant additives that make the Cheerios taste good: sugar and cornstarch.

“So we were able to change how we source and handle ingredients to ensure that the cornstarch for original Cheerios comes only from non-GMO corn, and our sugar is only non-GMO pure cane sugar,” admitted GM.

It’s a change that, however much GM wants to downplay, is significant. According to the website NonGMOProject.org, approximately 95 percent of all sugar made from beets (the main source for sugar in manufactured products) in 2010 came from GMO sources. Approximately 88 percent of corn and corn products were GMO in 2011.

So why wouldn’t GM want to make a big deal over this? As Mike Adams on NaturalNews.com points out, this is so not-an-issue to GM that it hasn’t even announced the change on its cereal boxes.

“For starters, there doesn’t seem to be anything in the announcement about General Mills adding any sort of ‘non-GMO’ label to Cheerios boxes,” notes Adams. “It seems as if General Mills wants Cheerios to be secretly non-GMO while avoiding bringing any real attention to the issue.”

Maybe. But it may also have to do with the less-than-savory press that GM recently received for its objections to state laws regulating GMOs. According to GM, its objections concerning states, such as Washington, regulating GMOs had nothing to do with its position on consumer choice and everything to do with the way the issue is handled.

Still, the recipe change is a sign that GM knows that this is a hot-button issue for consumers, and that an increasing number are pushing for state laws that will give the public the freedom to decide whether or not to buy products containing GMOs. With the increasing demand for non-GMO products both here in North America and in Europe, tweaking the Cheerios recipe is not only a smart way to see how the market responds, but also a savvy way to show support for consumer advocacy.

Image credit: TheImpulsiveBuy


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  • D Finnelli

    Processed, industrial food is the problem. Not GMOs.

  • Max

    “According to the website NonGMOProject.org, approximately 95 percent of
    all sugar made from beets (the main source for sugar in manufactured
    products) in 2010 came from GMO sources. Approximately 88 percent of
    corn and corn products were GMO in 2011.”

    Even if the organization would say so, the author should mention they’re talking about the US (or any other region); because this statement would be incorrect at a global level. It would also help in reminding that the problem mainly comes from the US, and its followers.

    Check the figures for maize: 2009: 26% were GMO at global level and 85% at US level!!
    http://www.gmo-compass.org/eng/agri_biotechnology/gmo_planting/341.genetically_modified_maize_global_area_under_cultivation.html

  • Elodie Planche

    May I share a few comments on the post since I also wrote on the same topic (http://www.lavieengreen.com/blog/gmo-free-original-cheerios)?

    - Contrarily to what Mike Adams said, there is a “Not made with GMO…” mention on pack, even two (one on each side of the box, see attached pics taken on shelf on Jan. 8). It was part of the PR statement. The real issue here is that it is a voluntary mention, meaning we have to trust General Mills. Problem is, they acknowledge in fine prints that GMO cross-contamination risks exist…. So we’re far from the rigorous tests conducted to obtain the Non-GMO Project seal for example…

    - Gen Mills quite clearly oppose mandatory (as in by law) GMO labeling and conversely support a voluntary “not made with GMOs” label, like they did on Original Cheerios (note that this is the only Cheerios variety being changed, none of the other 12 have been altered/freed from GMO ingredients). Why? Because most of their cereals brands (Cheerios, but also Lucky Charms, Chex, Reeses Puffs etc) are made with GMOs. I believe only Cascadian Farm got the Non GMO project verified seal. Also clear about not doing it because of public (or activists) pressure and my guess is that their market research showed a financial opportunity in the non-GMO market. it must now be big enough to go after, so the #1 motivation is profit!

    - This is not a change in “recipe”, just a change in “sourcing” of 2 minor ingredients. Semantics matter here because a recipe change is a huge sales risk (consumers may hate the new recipe), vs a change in ingredient suppliers, that is completely transparent to consumers (from a taste perspective, cornstarch is cornstarch, sugar is sugar, especially given the proportions here).

    So this change is important for mostly 2 reasons:
    1- It is pretty sure to start a domino effect in the Big Food Industry as competitors will scramble to offer GMO free options wherever it’s easy (every oat based recipe is a quick win since there’s no GMO oats in the US) one after the other to try and keep their market shares untouched. Why? Because consumers’ awareness of GMOs will grow thanks to the media/activists increasingly talking about GMOs and relaying this type of changes. That’ll create a momentum favoring non GMO requests, and whether they deny a direct influence or not, corporations will now have to comply to some levels since they’ll have proven they can do it. By the way, Gen Mills has no GMO in any of their European cereals because GMOs are forbidden for human consumption by law. So they so can do it that they ARE already doing it! Just not in the US, because GMO ingredients are cheaper than organic or even conventional ingredients, and the law has not yet caught up with the potential health risks of GMOs (and there’s lobbying of course). Profit, profit, profit!
    So on this point, it’s a positive change that does matter.

    2- Health: The core of the conversation should really be about if this change does make the 3rd cereal brand in the US ($290MM in 2011 sales!) a healthier one than it was. Unfortunately, the answer to this one is no. Original is now the only Cheerios recipe made with non GMO ingredients, and it is still sharing plants, if not production lines with the other types, if not also the other (GMO laden) brands. Because contamination exists at the tiniest level, it is pretty much a guarantee that it will happen. Now about the potential danger of ingesting GMOs on our long term health, even tiny quantities, given that it’s daily, for years, and to be added to exposure to more GMOs in countless other packaged food products, this is where we need to make a personal decision, and this is where we have no scientific proven data to guide us. Only some animal studies, showing nothing encouraging. So it’s all about either saying it’s fine, let’s eat GMOs, or being cautious and go with the precautionary principle given that we only have one health. Truth be told in a few decades…

    Here’s the link to my Cheerios’ ingredient switch post if you’d like to read it http://www.lavieengreen.com/blog/gmo-free-original-cheerios

  • Elodie Planche

    Pic #2