By Dr. Mercola
Cereal giant General Mills has announced that its original-flavor Cheerios will soon be made without the use of genetically modified (GM) ingredients.
It’s a major step in the right direction that also highlights the changing attitudes among the US public regarding genetically modified organisms (GMOs)… increasing numbers of people simply do not want them in our food.
For some of you, the news that Cheerios even contained GM ingredients to begin with may come as a surprise, as GM ingredients are not required to be labeled in the US (the way they are in the European Union or EU).
Others may have assumed they were GM-free, since they’re made mostly from oats, not corn or soy, which are two of the most commonly used GMOs in the US. Unbeknownst to many, however, Cheerios were formerly made using GM cornstarch and sugar.
Most likely, though, General Mills’ move was made in response to recent consumer backlash, proving once again that the power to clean up the food supply lies in your hands.
Consumer Backlash Likely Drove General Mills to Drop GMOs from Cheerios
General Mills reported earlier this month that they’ve already begun producing Cheerios made without GMOs. To be clear, the change will only apply to its original-flavor cereal (not Apple Cinnamon or others), and the boxes will be labeled “Not Made with Genetically Modified Ingredients.”
There will also be a disclaimer that trace amounts of GMO ingredients may be present due to contamination during the manufacturing process.1 The move comes just weeks after General Mills’ Cheerios brand released a Facebook app asking “fans” to “show what Cheerios mean to them.”
The app allowed users to create their own placards using Cheerios’ trademarked black font on a yellow background, where dots and periods featured little cheerios. One day later, the app was abruptly pulled after thousands of angry “fans” expressed their disgust over the company’s betrayal. What betrayal, you ask?
General Mills donated more than $1.1 million to the “No on Prop. 37” campaign to defeat California’s Proposition 37, which would have required GM foods to be labeled as such and prevented GM foods from being mislabeled as “natural.”
Proposition 37 was defeated back in November 2012 due to massive donations from multinational corporations, such as General Mills, which hide GM ingredients behind natural labels and “wholesome” advertising. Two of the first three ingredients in Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios are cornstarch and sugar—two ingredients that are often genetically engineered.
You Spoke… and General Mills Listened!
Many people are now waking up to the fact that there is an ever-growing number of genetically engineered ingredients in our food that we had no idea were there. As far as Cheerios goes, you’d never get the impression there might be anything unnatural about their cereal.
But when it came out that the company had been donating to efforts to keep GM labeling silent, their trust for providing “wholesome goodness” (as their Web site claims) was badly broken.
After all, they would rather pay millions to hide that their products contain GM ingredients rather than give you the choice to buy something else… or reformulate their product without GM ingredients (which would be the sensible thing to do if they were really concerned about children’s long-term health and well-being).
After all the backlash – remember, there were thousands of people speaking out against their GMO deception on their Facebook page – General Mills got proactive with damage control by removing the GM ingredients from their flagship product. Now, if they’ll extend it to their other products as well, we’ll be getting somewhere…
Monsanto Disses GMO-Free Cheerios as a Marketing Stunt
Monsanto, the world leader in genetically modified (GM) crops and seeds, dismissed General Mills’ move to make Cheerios GMO-free, calling it a ‘marketing’ move. CEO Hugh Grant focused his comments on the fact that oats are the main ingredient in original Cheerios, and there are no GM oats.
Still, there is GM corn and GM sugar, two other ingredients used in the cereal. Clearly Monsanto is keen on downplaying the positive press that General Mills is receiving over labeling their products as free from GMOs. Could this signal the beginning of the end for the unspoken partnership between biotech and the junk-food industry?
CEO Hugh Grant said:2
“The interesting thing with Cheerios over that particular brand is they’re made from oats, and there are no biotech oats in existence today. So I think we’ve talked for years about we would support voluntary labeling and that was up to companies to do. I think we saw last week was the first real life example of true voluntary labeling and probably a little bit of marketing as well.”
Monsanto is not going to let GM labeling happen without a fight, however. Last year the company donated nearly $5 million to the anti-labeling campaign in Washington State, and in 2012 they donated more than $7 million to help defeat California’s Proposition 37.
Curiously enough, Monsanto is more than willing to “support” GMO labeling once they run out of options. They even ran an ad in the UK letting British consumers know how much the company supports the mandatory labeling of their goods—even urging Britons to seek such labels out—ostensibly because Monsanto believes “you should be aware of all the facts before making a decision.”
Forbes Asks: Are GMO-Free Cheerios “The First Domino”?
The first white flag from the food industry has gone up, and even Forbes had to admit it. With increasing GMO-labeling initiatives on state ballots and regulators considering labeling changes on a national level, the food industry has been standing together to defeat this rising opposition … until now.
General Mills’ move sets it apart from the other industry giants in showing that they are responding to consumer demand. It’s a wise move that will win them major favor among the growing number of Americans seeking safer food while costing them little (the actual tweaking of their recipe to become GMO-free will be minimal). This may very well be the ‘first domino’ to fall …
In fact, Post Foods recently announced that they have released a non-GMO verified Grape Nuts cereal that is available on store shelves as of January 2014.. and they’re looking to add even more non-GMO verified products, noting that
“We are always listening to our consumers…”
So it seems the dominoes are already beginning to fail. As for why General Mills’ made their move at such a pivotal time in GM-food history, Forbes hit the nail on the head:3
“The answer is that public opinion is reaching critical mass. Ninety-percent of Americans believe that GMOs are unsafe, 93 percent of Americans favor stringent federal GMO labeling regulations, and 57 percent say they would be less likely to buy products labeled as genetically modified. When we shift the focus from General Mills motivations to the timing of its decision, we see why every food manufacturer ought to be taking notice, whether another brand-name kitchen table staple goes non-GMO or not.”
Kellogg’s Got Similar Backlash Over GM Soy in 2012
The General Mills’ saga bears a strong resemblance to what happened to Kellogg’s in 2012, when it was revealed that the soy in Kashi cereals comes from genetically modified Roundup-ready soybeans, which have a gene inserted in them that allows the crop to withstand otherwise lethal doses of the weed killer. As was the case with Cheerios, consumers felt duped into believing that Kashi was all natural when it was not, and a class-action lawsuit was even filed against Kellogg/Kashi “for allegedly misleading consumers with its “natural” claims.
As a result of the consumer outrage, the Kashi brand pledged to use at least 70 percent certified organic ingredients by 2015, and according to their Web site now has 11 products that are Non-GMO Project Verified. This problem of GMOs hiding in plain sight in products marketed as natural is not, unfortunately, an isolated one. In 2011, the Cornucopia Institute released a report, ” Cereal Crimes,”4 that detailed the presence of genetically engineered grains in a number of leading “natural” cereal brands. Many of the products tested were found to contain high amounts of genetically engineered grains—some containing 100-percent genetically engineered grains!
The Tide Is Turning: Many Food Brands Are Voluntarily Removing GMOs
The tipping point of consumer rejection of genetically engineered foods in the US is almost here. A clear sign of this occurred in 2012, when the president of Whole Foods confessed that when a product becomes verified as Non-GMO or GMO-free, sales leap by 15-30 percent. Of all the categories of health and wellness claims, such as “gluten-free,” etc, “GMO-free” products have the most rapid growth in sales.
Whole Foods has announced they will make labeling of GM ingredients mandatory in its American and Canadian stores by 2018. Besides that, Target has announced that its own brand will be non-GMO in 2014. Ben Jerry’s became non-GMO at the end of 2013, and while Chipotle’s restaurants are working toward a non-GMO menu, they voluntarily started labeling in the meantime. There’s also been more news coverage on the dangers of GMOs. Other vital signs of progress in the movement against genetically engineered foods include:
- The March Against Monsanto in 52 countries by more than 2 million people
- Labeling laws proposed in more than two dozen states, which subsequently passed in Connecticut and Maine
- Hundreds of companies have enrolled in the Non-GMO Project, and some non-GMO companies fret they may lose their sources of non-GMO ingredients to the new-comers
- Farmers now receive more non-GMO premiums
- Some companies are already going overseas to get non-GMO ingredients
The rapid and dramatic rise in sales of products that are Non-GMO Verified really demonstrates the power you have as a consumer. And this is how we will ultimately win to eradicate GM foods, because most food companies don’t have a particular pro-GMO agenda. They’re just selling what people will buy, and by using the most inexpensive ingredients possible they can increase profits. But if their profits go down due to an undesirable ingredient, they will change it, as evidenced by General Mills recent reformulation to make Cheerios non-GMO.
So, to keep the momentum going, I urge you to purchase organic or Non-GMO Project Verified foods, and to tell your friends and relatives to do the same. (As an aside, even non-GMO, cereal is not a food that I advise eating, and you can read more about why that is here).
Do You Know Why It’s Important to Get GMOs Out of Your Food?
In case you were wondering why there’s so much controversy over adding GM ingredients, unlabeled, to the food supply, there are definitive correlations between the results from animal-feeding studies and the patterns of human disease we’re now seeing. For example, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine has done a number of animal-feeding studies on GMOs and specifically enumerated the particular categories of diseases and disorders found in these controlled environments:
Jeffrey Smith, who is one of the leaders in educating people about the concerns and dangers of GMOs, said:
“You look at the three different corresponding factors: (1) what humans are getting better from, (2) what livestock is getting better from, (3) what afflictions are afflicting the lab animals fed with GMOs, and then you look at what diseases are really taking off in the United States – they’re the same categories.”
There’s also another potent toxin associated with genetically engineered foods that is unrelated to the Bt toxin or the genetic alteration itself, and that is glyphosate—the active ingredient in Monsanto’s broad-spectrum herbicide, which is used on both GE crops and many conventional crops as well. The contamination appears to be greater in GE crops however, especially in so-called Roundup Ready crops. These are genetically altered to withstand otherwise lethal doses of the herbicide, and it’s important to realize that the glyphosate permeates the entire plant. It cannot be washed off.
In June, groundbreaking research was published detailing a newfound mechanism of harm for Roundup. The finding suggests that glyphosate may actually be the most important factor in the development of a wide variety of chronic diseases, specifically because your gut bacteria are a key component of glyphosate’s mechanism of harm.
Glyphosate causes extreme disruption of the microbe’s function and lifecycle. What’s worse, glyphosate preferentially affects beneficial bacteria, allowing pathogens to overgrow and take over. At that point, your body also has to contend with the toxins produced by the pathogens. Once the chronic inflammation sets in, you’re well on your way toward chronic and potentially debilitating disease.
You Have the Power: Vote with Your Pocketbook Daily
The food companies on the left of the graphic below spent tens of millions of dollars in the last two GMO labeling campaigns—in California and Washington State – to prevent you from knowing what’s in your food. You can even the score by switching to the brands on the right, all of which stood behind the I-522 Right to Know campaign. Voting with your pocketbook, at every meal, matters. It makes a huge difference.
I encourage you to continue educating yourself about genetically engineered foods, and to share what you’ve learned with family and friends. Remember, unless a food is certified organic, you can assume it contains GMO ingredients if it contains sugar from sugar beets, soy, or corn, or any of their derivatives.
If you buy processed food, opt for products bearing the USDA 100% Organic label, as certified organics do not permit GMOs. You can also print out and use the Non-GMO Shopping Guide, created by the Institute for Responsible Technology. Share it with your friends and family, and post it to your social networks. Alternatively, download their free iPhone application, available in the iTunes store. You can find it by searching for ShopNoGMO in the applications.
Please, do your homework. Together, we have the power to stop the biotech industry from destroying our food supply, the future of our children, and the earth as a whole. All we need is about 5 percent of American shoppers to simply stop buying genetically engineered foods, and the food industry would have to reconsider their source of ingredients—regardless of whether the products bear an actual GMO label or not.