Sunday, February 10, 2013

Cherrios Trusted or Tainted

Breakfast cereals have been a staple of children’s morning nutrition for decades and some brands have been around for so long they carry a sort of “halo” and because of this halo effect are assumed to be “good for you.”

California's Proposition 37, which would have required genetically engineered (GE) foods to be labeled as such and prevented GE foods from being mislabeled as "natural," was defeated back in November due to massive donations from multinational corporations that hide GE ingredients behind natural labels and "wholesome" advertising.

One such company was General Mills, the maker of Cheerios.

General Mills donated more than $1.1 million to the 'No on Prop. 37' campaign to defeat the GE labeling law recently got a taste of the backlash from their support for the legislation.  Just one day after General Mills’ Cheerios brand released a Facebook app allowing “fans” to “show what Cheerios mean to them,” the app was abruptly pulled due to thousands of angry consumers using it to create anti-GMO (genetically modified organisms) statements and lashing out against the company’s apparent hypocrisy.

Two of the first three ingredients in Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios are cornstarch and sugar—two ingredients that might be genetically engineered (a majority of corn-based ingredients and sugar from sugar beets on the US market is now GE).  The fact that General Mills would rather pay millions to hide that their products contain GE ingredients rather than give you the choice to buy something else, or reformulate their product without GE ingredients is quite telling. [1]

All that said, it’s unlikely eating Cheerios on a regular basis will have any detrimental effects on your health especially in the short term but as the use of GE ingredients becomes more prevalent we should be aware that GE’s are very likely present in many of the foods we have consumed for years.

So what’s the big deal about GE food anyway?  Isn’t it just a more efficient way to provide food to more people for less money?

Consider the following:

A two-year long French feeding study designed to evaluate the long-term health effects of a genetically engineered corn found that rats fed Monsanto’s maize developed massive breast tumors, kidney and liver damage, and other serious health problems. The major onslaught of diseases set in during the 13th month.

Female rats that ate genetically engineered corn died 2-3 times more than controls, and more rapidly, while the male GE-fed rats had tumors that occurred up to a year-and-a-half earlier than rats not fed GE corn.

According to results from a 10-year long feeding study on rats, mice, pigs and salmon, genetically engineered feed causes obesity, along with significant changes in the digestive system and major organs, which include the liver, kidneys, pancreas, genitals and more.

The EPA admits there’s “mounting evidence” that Monsanto’s insecticide-fighting YieldGard corn is losing its effectiveness in the Midwest. Last year, rootworms resistant to the toxin in the genetically designed corn infested fields in Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota and Nebraska.

Genetically engineered foods are responsible for development of resistant weeds and pests; increased pathogenic virulence; degradation of soil quality; reduced nutrient content in food; exponential rise in infertility and birth defects; and reduced crop yields, and more. [2]

I know we aren’t rats but the question that has to be asked given the evidence is it this stuff worth eating when you have better options?

Before I get into the better options some thing else that should be noted in regard to breakfast cereals.

All but a few brands of breakfast cereal–even so-called organic health food cereal–are produced by a process called extrusion that subjects the grains to very high temperatures (Grape Nuts is one exception – it is not extruded but baked).  Analysis of the grains after extrusion indicates that the industrial process breaks up the carefully organized proteins they contain, creating neurotoxic (damaging to nerves) protein fragments.  Since organic whole grains are higher in protein, it is very likely that extruded health food cereals contain higher levels of these toxic protein fragments than refined grains that are lower in protein. [3]

One of the cereal makers with the aforementioned “halo” is Kashi. I contacted Kashi to ask what varieties of their cereals were extruded.  The list included the bulk of their offerings except for the Autumn Wheat variety.  I should also note that like General Mills, Kashi also supported the defeat of the anti-GE legislation.

Last year, a report from the Cornucopia Institute titled Cereal Crimes exposed how most "natural" brands are actually just charging you more for what often amounts to genetically engineered ingredients. This is in all likelihood part of the reason why so many "natural" brands spent millions of dollars to defeat California's GMO labeling campaign.

According to the report:

"[There is a] vast differences between organic cereal and granola products and so-called natural products, which contain ingredients grown on conventional farms where the use of toxic pesticides and genetically engineered organisms is widespread... Our analysis reveals that "natural" products — using conventional ingredients — often are priced higher than equivalent organic products. This suggests that some companies are taking advantage of consumer confusion."

This is significant, because surveys have shown that more consumers pay attention to the "100% Natural" claim than the "100% Organic" label. In one such survey, 31 percent of respondents said the "100% Natural" label was the most desirable eco-friendly product claim, compared to just 14 percent who chose "100% Organic." Food companies clearly know this, and they're cashing in on your confusion. The truth is, synthetic ingredients and additives, toxic pesticides, fumigants and solvents frequently show up in products bearing the "natural" label, while these are strictly prohibited in organic production. But the most disturbing finding presented in the Cereal Crimes report related to the presence of genetically engineered ingredients found in so-called all-natural foods:

"The Cornucopia Institute sent samples of breakfast cereal to an accredited and highly reputable GMO testing laboratory. Samples were tested for the exact percentage of genetically engineered corn or soybeans, using the most sophisticated and accurate tests commercially available.

The results were stunning. Several breakfast cereal manufacturers that market their foods as "natural," even some that claim to avoid genetically engineered ingredients and are enrolled in the Non-GMO Project, contained high levels of genetically engineered ingredients." [4]

Remember: "Natural" Label Does NOT Prohibit Genetically Modified Ingredients.

The USDA certified organic label is your best guarantee that the food was produced without:

Toxic pesticides
Genetically engineered (GE) ingredients
Carcinogenic fumigants
Chemical solvents

This peace of mind is something the "100% Natural" label will NOT give you. Genetically engineered (GE) ingredients are of particular concern when it comes to food products like breakfast cereals and granola bars, because, in the US, the vast majority of the most common ingredients in these products — corn, soy, and canola — are genetically modified.

In Lieu of GMO Labeling, 100% Organic is Your Only Assurance

Once you realize that much of the "natural" claims are hype, it becomes easier to navigate around the deception. To find brands that are committed to sustainable organic agriculture and avoiding genetically engineered ingredients use Cornucopia's Cereal Scorecard.

Another factor to consider is the fact that many small family farms actually adhere to fully organic practices even though they may not have gone through the expense of obtaining organic certification. So labels aren't everything when it comes to healthful food. But if you're going to shop by the label, make sure it's the certified 100% organic label.  Until or unless we get GMO labeling in the US, the 100% USDA Certified Organic label is the only assurance you have that the food you buy does NOT contain genetically engineered ingredients.

Better Options

To find the highest quality cereal options checkout the Cereal Scorecard below.  While you may find many cereals that are not made with GE ingredients a vast majority will still be extruded.  I would encourage you to read Is Breakfast Cereal Toxic below for more information.  The best option is to make your own cereal using whole grains.  An example is good old-fashioned slow-cooking oatmeal. And despite what the name implies it doesn’t have to take a long time to prepare.  Before you go to bed simply soak a serving of oats in a glass container (I pour boiling water over it submerge it).  Come morning simply empty the container into a pot and heat it up to the desired consistency.  I know oatmeal can be a tad boring for you and your family but I have become quite skilled over the years with “spicing it up.”

Try these options:
Dark chocolate
Cocoa Powder
Almond/Peanut Butter
Mashed Pumpkin
Molasses and Ginger (tastes like gingerbread cookies)
Apple Sauce
Stevia or Maple Syrup to taste

For added protein and a dose of energy sustaining fats I will beat an egg and add it directly to the oats.  I will cook this for a few minutes while stirring and then add the other ingredients after it’s cooked.  Mix and match, you’ll be amazed at the varieties you will come up with.

Additional Resources:

Cereal Scorecard

Is Breakfast Cereal Toxic?


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