By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now
I am cheering for Cheerios today, with the Jan. 2 announcement that General Mills will make its iconic cereal without GMO ingredients.
This is a landmark decision that shows consumer dissatisfaction with a product can sway corporate giants. The company responded to a year-long campaign led by Green America in which thousands of citizens emailed GM, asking the cereal-maker to take the GMOs out of the O's.
Cheerios has been a favorite of mine for years. It's crunchy, low in sugar and a decent, vitamin-fortified food source. The oats in Cheerios, circa 1941, have been found to provide whole grain fiber that's verifiably heart-healthy. So now it will be even better, stripped of GMO ingredients that many people fear are messing with human digestive systems, carrying pesticide residues and making us more prone to a variety of ailments.
But let's be honest. This was a pretty easy move for General Mills to go non-GMO, because Cheerios are made with whole grain oats, a crop that's not been tainted by Monsanto's genetic invasion of our food system.
Unlike corn and soybeans, the vast majority of which are genetically modified in the US, oats has escaped conversion into a corporately controlled, patented, pesticide-dependent, genetically modified crop. How that happened is a story for another day. Suffice it to say that oats were not the focus of the chemical giants that methodically overtook US corn and soybean production (these large crops had vast applications, used to make high fructose corn syrup, soda, snack foods and livestock feed).
Wheat, oats and a few other crops escaped the GMO takeover (so far) that has converted nearly 90 percent of the corn crop and 95 percent of the soybeans into GMO varieties.
So it won’t be all that difficult for General Mills to make this concession to the non-GMO crowd.
That's not to say that non-GMO Cheerios won't require a new recipe. While the top ingredient in Cheerios is the oats, a non-GMO crop, General Mills still will have to purge the genetically modified sugar (most likely derived from GMO-sugar beets) and the cornstarch (almost always GMO unless its organic) from its formula. The company will be converting its mainline Cheerios, the ones in the big yellow box, but not other varieties.
So, this is a significant change, a big win for Green America and the "tens of thousands" of consumers the groups says petitioned for it.
Still, the true test of corporate commitment to an increasingly GMO-averse American public will come when General Mills or another multi-national food company agrees to remake its corn- or soy-based products into non-GMO food stuffs. Then the food companies will be expressing some real empathy for consumers fraught with worries about the long-term safety of genetically modified foods.
If that ever happens.
So far, the food mega players have not seem interested in helping the public shake the GMO monkey off its back, beyond buying up organic and non-GMO brands so they can bring that sector onto their balance sheets.
Maybe with this first step, we will see General Mills moving ahead with more non-GMO products. Maybe they’ll help lead a decoupling of the food company/pesticide maker alliance that has forsaken consumer safety concerns for the pursuit of cheap ingredients and profits.
Maybe it will be safe to venture back into the mainstream cereal aisle. I’m all in for Cheerios.
But it’s a big aisle.
- To find out more about GMOs, also known as GM or GE crops, see our chart below, which shows the percentage of the US crop that is genetically modified.
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