Cheerios Says No to GMOs (Sort of)

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CheeriosGeneral Mills sent shocks through the food world earlier this month when it announced that its flagship Cheerios cereal will be made without GMOs. At first blush it sounds like a victory for activists and consumer groups, who have been turning up the heat on many food companies lately around “natural” claims for food products that contain GMOs (such as Chobani) and supporting state by state legislation for mandatory GMO labeling. But like anything, the devil is in the details. First, the Facts

What do you need to know? Here are the 5 facts that I believe are worth knowing:

  1. Only the original Cheerios will be made without GMOs . All other 11 versions of Cheerios will still contain GMOs.
  2. Rather than touting “the more common “GMO-free”,  the labeling will state “Not made with Genetically Modified Ingredients”, because Cheerios are made in facilities that also manufacture GMO foods.
  3. The oats used in all of the Cheerios brands have never contained GMOs, but General Mills swapped 2 other ingredients to non-GMO sources: corn starch and cane sugar (instead of conventional beet sugar) to achieve the change.
  4. Cheerios - every single version - is already GMO-free in Europe.
  5. General Mills, the parent company, was a major contributor to defeating the high stakes GMO labeling legislation in Washington state.

 

Trying to Have it Both Ways?

So does this represent a major victory for the GMO movement, or an attempt to have it both ways that is only adding to consumer confusion and marketing clutter? Or perhaps something in the middle - say, a laudable first step for a cereal juggernaut to test consumer response, shore up new supply chains, and then move to more wholly to GMO-free products if the marketplace speaks loudly enough?

Personally, I am willing to wait and see on this one.

You can read expert comments from both sides here.

I have to question the intentions of a company that on one hand is touting their GMO-free brand while at the same time funding anti-GMO labeling legislation. I have read their reasoning here, but crave trust and transparency in my food. And a company that gushes about how great a non-GMO choice is for consumers while simultaneously promoting the safety and benefits of GMOs raises significant doubts for me about both trust and transparency. As Marion Nestle noted in a recent post on the topic:

“...by pouring money into fighting labeling, the biotech industry looks like it’s got plenty to hide.”

However, I know from my own work experience how incredibly difficult it can be for large companies - considering things like supply chain issues, labeling requirements, legal departments and manufacturing facilities - to pivot on a dime. While it’s incredibly easy in this age of social media saturation to quickly and ruthlessly point out what’s wrong with a particular company, if Cheerios’ move nudges other food makers to follow suit, it could truly change the food supply from the ground up - which is indeed good for us and good for the planet. Part of me wonders, does it matter if they phase it in in baby steps if we ultimately arrive at the same place? And I do have to give kudos to Cheerios for announcing this AFTER the changes have already been implemented. Far too often companies prefer to bask in the PR splash of a feel good announcement now, when a dig through the nitty gritty of specifics reveals said changes will actually be implemented further down the road (kind of like Congress).

So what do you think?

Will 2014 shape up to be the decisive year for GMO labeling? So far, so heated: earlier this week the FDA declined a request by the Grocery Manufacturers of America to adopt a definition of “natural” or to state whether ingredients derived from biotechnology - like GMOs - can be considered “natural”.

One thing is crystal clear: we vote with our wallets. And companies respond to consumer demand. Which means, that if you are really fired up about creating a more GMO-free supermarket, start by adding more organics (which are always GMO free) and certified GMO-free foods to your grocery cart.

GMOs Are the Tipping Point of Taking Back Consumer Power

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Right to KnowHow I wish I lived in California right now. Not because as a Utahn I often fall prey to food envy, thinking of those lucky Californians with their oh-so-delicious produce, unfettered access to a plush supply of seasonal, local foods, or even the ridiculous ease with which they can savor delicious organic or vegan foods at every street corner. That’s all still true-but the reason I am so envious of Californians now is because on November 6th, Californians are poised to decide the “food fate” of America when they vote on Proposition 37, which would require labeling of GMOs on food labels (Prop 37).

We Have a Right to Know. Over 90% of Americans favor labeling of GMOs, one of the widest majorities of any food issue in history.  As a health professional, a mother, and an American, I believe everyone deserves the right to decide for themselves whether whether or not buy foods containing GMOs. And NOW is our time to speak up.

Let’s not let Monsanto shape the conversation for us, or lead us down murky, sidetracking debates about safety, “a nanny state”, or increased costs to consumers.  I just want a food label, so I can decide for myself. It’s that simple. But then again, it’s not. The food industry has spent tens of of millions of dollars fighting to convince Americans there’s no need for labeling; they understand that as California goes, so goes America, as Mark Bittman blogged about recently here. It’s a power struggle that is poised to shape the food landscape in America for decades to come.

Yet fresh questions about safety arose earlier this month when a newly published study in Food and Chemical Toxicology, the first ever peer reviewed long term study, looked at the effects of consuming GMO corn over time-and found it linked to significantly higher rates of tumors, organ damage, and premature death in rats. The study’s findings, while only one piece of data in the entire GMO story, nonetheless raises significant concerns, and at the very least reminds us that we are still learning the impacts of a food technology that’s only been around for 15 years. In fact, the results were alarming enough that this week Russia announced it’s banning GMOs. Russia now joins 50 countries around the world that require labeling-but the U.S. is not one of them.

“Choice is a Good Thing” The food industry has been reciting this mantra for decades. Choice in labeling is a good thing, too. If Prop 37 is approved, it will have a powerful ripple effect in cleaning up our food supply-lets let consumers decide with the power of the purse whether they want GMOs in their foods or not.  Food advocate Robyn O’Brien summed up perfectly what’s at stake for all of us when she wrote:

“We have a right to independent, long-term studies that examine what the impact of these novel technologies and manufactured chemicals might be on the health of our loved ones, our pregnancies and our children, we have the right to know how our food is produced, and like 50 countries around theworld, we have the right to labels on these genetically engineered ingredients, so that as mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, as Americans, we can make an informed choice when it comes to feeding our loved ones. “

(Read her entire blog here)

California, now’s our chance. Let’s take it!USDA Organic Certified

What You Can Do to Stay GMO Free:

- Buy foods bearing the USDA Organic Certified label

Non GMO Verified- Look for foods with the Non GMO Project Verified Label (see right)

 

 

Learn More at http://www.nongmoproject.org and tell the FDA to label GMO foods at www.justlabelit.org.

 

Posted with assistance from Lindsey Toth, MS, RD