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Cheerios decision proves GMO labeling already exists

  • Food companies change their labels all the time to attract new customers.


The misinformation related to GMOs continues.

After two major statewide battles to force food companies to label their products related to Genetically Modified Organisms went down in defeat at the ballot box – California’s Prop. 37 and Washington State’s I-522 – a major food manufacturer stepped forward with its own label.

The Huffington Post exclaimed in a headline that “original Cheerios are now GMO-free.” Even the lede proffers the premise that the cereal maker had a change of heart and will no longer make its popular breakfast cereal with GMO ingredients. Score one for the little guy, right? Not so fast.

The problem with that is Cheerios claims it never did make its original brand with GMO ingredients. A quick trip to Cheerios’ website spells this out. While General Mills, the company that owns Cheerios, picks its words carefully to indicate that its labeling change only impacts the original brand of Cheerios and not the others, I could find nowhere that indicated the original brand had made a major shift from GMO ingredients to non-GMO ingredients in the cereal.

Cheerios is clear that its decision does not impact its other brands. “For our other cereals, the widespread use of GM seed in crops such as corn, soy, or beet sugar would make reliably moving to non-GM ingredients difficult, if not impossible,” according to a statement on the Cheerios website.

Still, when word broke that Cheerios was adding a label saying it does not use GMO ingredients in its original brand, the buzz on social media and elsewhere rose accordingly.

What happened here happens all the time: food companies change their labels to attract customers. Cheerios simply found a truthful claim that it could legally make with respect to its product. It’s probably a safe bet that most consumer won’t care a lick whether the ingredients used to make the cereal came from GMO plants or not.

So, while some might want to beat their chest in victory about one cereal manufacturer’s decision to go non-GMO, the truth is the decision was made for marketing purposes, pure and simple.

If perceptions and marketing were not important, then why all the fuss on labels about the health benefits of certain food products? How could the organic industry rise to such financial prominence without effective marketing?

On that subject the Cheerios website continues: “General Mills produces several organic cereals that by definition cannot use GM ingredients – and sell those products national – so we already offer consumers a wide range of non-GM cereal choices.”

I ask: Is that an example of a purely philosophical goal to provide consumers healthier food choices, or a financial decision made by a for-profit company to make more money by capitalizing on effective marketing? You decide.

Eat what you like. Buy foods based on your personal preferences. Realize that much of food marketing is about a perceived benefit and enjoy whatever you choose to fill your pantry and refrigerator with.


Follow me on Twitter @ToddFitchette

Discuss this Blog Entry 2

Anonymous (not verified)
on Jan 7, 2014

For the record, General Mills' own statements make clear that currently original Cheerios uses cornstarch from GMO corn and sugar that in part or whole comes from GMO sugar beets. The new "non-GMO" version will use non-GMO cornstarch and cane sugar. However, many consumers won't buy the new Cheerios unless the non-GMO ingredients are verified by a third party such as the "Non-GMO Verified" label. The best guess is that sales of original Cheerios will remain flat despite the change. Due to the extensive coverage of General Mills' use of GMOs, it's expected that sales of the 30+ varieties of Cheerios and other GM cereal brands that continue to include multiple GMO ingredients will decline. Readers should also know that because of General Mills' attempt to conceal an illegal $598,819 contribution to defeat Washington State's I-522 GMO labeling law, consumer organizations launched a boycott of ALL of General Mills products, even organic product lines like Muir Glen and Cascadian Farms. National boycotts also are in force for all the other 33 food companies who also tried to hide their contributions to defeat I-522.

Chemiebabe (not verified)
on Jan 9, 2014

Good job Todd! People just need to settle down and realize that there is plenty of choice out there. If you are concerned about GMO seeds and don't want to eat the food made from those crops there are plenty of non-GMO products out there. No one is making you eat things you don't want. So get over it and move on people!

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