Saturday, February 15, 2014

Cheerios; Trusted or Tainted...

If you tuned into the Super Bowl you may have caught the endearing Cheerios commercial of a father sitting down with his child at the breakfast table discussing life over a bowl of Cheerios. It was classic Americana and no doubt an attempt by Cheerios to position itself as a staple in every kitchen in America. Given recent news this commercial may have been an attempt by Cheerios to start rebuilding the trust in its once pristine brand…

Cereal giant General Mills recently announced that its original-flavor Cheerios would soon be made without the use of genetically modified (GM) ingredients.

It's a major step by national brand that also highlights the changing attitudes among the U.S. 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 U.S. (the way they are in the European Union).

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 U.S. 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.

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. In other words the folks that bring you Cheerios put their money toward keeping you in the dark on what’s in their cereal. (1)

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..."

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. 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. (2)

The tipping point of consumer rejection of genetically engineered foods in the U.S. 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.

Forbes recently opined on the recent momentum against GM foods:

"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." (3)

Is breakfast cereal a good option?

Reading labels particularly on cereal boxes is always a good idea but don’t forget the underutilized and powerful tool we all have at our disposal and that is common sense. If you compare a label from a high fiber whole grain (adult cereal) to a sugary children’s cereal you will often find the box with the cartoon character is often higher in vitamins and minerals and may even contain less sugar and total calories. Don’t be fooled these cereals are often formulated to meet certain nutrient requirements for children with vitamins and minerals (not to mention artificial colors and sweeteners) that are man-made creations that are added back in to the cereal after being stripped away during the manufacturing process.

In this case read a book by its cover!

Given that most cereals are heavily processed and genetically modified it may be in your best interest to avoid even the so-called “healthy” varieties of cereal. After all for years you probably thought Cherrios and Kashi were good breakfast options, as it appears we may have been mislead.

Additional Resources:

For more details on why you may want to avoid breakfast cereals check this out:

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," 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 Non-GMO Shopping Guide:

Why GMO should be avoided:

Brands that support GMO labeling and those that oppose:


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