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Propagandists target cereal maker

By Holly Martin

There are few consumers as sensitive to food issues as the mothers of young children. They are concerned, first and foremost, with the health and well-being of their sons and daughters—as they should be.

It also makes them overly cautious and perhaps more susceptible to propaganda. That’s why Green America targeted young mothers to help the organization pressure General Mills for non-GMO Cheerios. Green America, a nonprofit activist organization, works to “harness economic power to create a socially just and environmentally sustainable society.” Genetically modified foods are high on their list of nonsustainable evils, regardless of the science to the contrary.

Their campaign worked, however, and General Mills has recently announced their original Cheerios will no longer be made with GM products.

For General Mills, the move has very little to do with science and a lot to do with marketing. Those young mothers who love the convenience of giving a bag full of Cheerios to their toddler to keep him busy are big business. It would not be smart to offend them.

The fact is, Cheerios are made with oats. There are no GMO oats. So even if General Mills wanted to produce a GMO-full Cheerios they couldn’t. The only part of a Cheerio that could have GMO ingredients would be the corn syrup, and there is only one gram of sugar per 1-cup serving—exactly the reason most of those young mothers like it.

Margaret Smith, a professor of plant breeding and genetics at Cornell University, also said in a recent statement: “Corn starch and sugar are highly refined products, so they contain no DNA (which is what is introduced into a genetically engineered organism) and no protein (which is what the new DNA would produce in a genetically engineered organism). Because of that, corn starch and sugar from a genetically engineered corn variety are nutritionally and chemically identical to corn starch or sugar from a non-genetically engineered variety.

“This means that the new version of Cheerios that is being made without use of genetically engineered varieties will be nutritionally and chemically identical to the previous version. So it will not offer anything new to consumers—other than to give them the option to buy a product that does not support planting more acres to genetically engineered crop varieties.”

So more than a major move in changing their product, this announcement is more of a major PR campaign.

But herein lies the issue: There is absolutely no scientific evidence that says that GMOs are unsafe for human consumption. And yet, General Mills decided to listen to the rhetoric.

This raises the question: Is General Mills doing what’s right by listening to what their consumers want—even though there is no sound logic to it?

You can get a sense of what the company really thinks by reading between the lines. Other lines of Cheerios will not be labeled GMO-free, they say, because it would be impossible to source.

At least the company recognizes that fact, unlike others who promise GMO-free, only to find that it’s expensive to grow crops without the advent of new technology. Most agricultural producers don’t find it worth their trouble. Consequently, those companies find themselves in a sourcing problem and end up going back to include GMO ingredients on their menu and in their stores.

General Mills says it required significant investment to launch original Cheerios as GMO-free. The investment came not from paying the people who grow the GMO-free ingredients but from the new system of handling ingredients. Will those same mothers be willing to pay extra for a box of Cheerios to pay for the new handling equipment? I’m afraid they’ve been hoodwinked into thinking the cereal will be higher quality.

On their Cheerios website, General Mills also says they support labeling non-GM ingredients. That’s a fun little way to say, “We only want to label the products that those crazy tree huggers will pay three times more for.” Again, it all comes down to marketing. Only time will tell if that marketing campaign resonates with consumers or whether it will fall flat as more and more consumers begin to realize genetically modified crops are the truly sustainable choice.

Holly Martin can be reached by phone at 1-800-452-7171, ext. 1806, or by email at

Date: 1/13/2014


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