General Mills Says ‘Cheerio’ to GMOs

BUSINESS

General Mills has eliminated all genetically modified organisms from Cheerios. But cold cereal has only heated up the GMO labeling battle between consumer groups (which demand mandatory labeling) and the food industry (which wants to keep labeling voluntary). (National Geographic News)

Use our resources to better understand genetically modified organisms.

Genetically modified organisms have had specific changes introduced into their DNA. The genetically modified corn kernel on the right is enriched with more protein than the yellow, unmodified kernel on the left. Photograph by James P. Blair, National Geographic

Genetically modified organisms have had specific changes introduced into their DNA. The genetically modified corn kernel on the right is enriched with more protein than the yellow, unmodified kernel on the left.
Photograph by James P. Blair, National Geographic

Livestock can also be genetically modified, producing meat or other animal products (such as wool) with desirable characteristics. The cut of meat on the right is noticeably less fatty, for instance, than the meat on the right. Photograph by James P. Blair, National Geographic

Livestock can also be genetically modified, producing meat or other animal products (such as wool) with desirable characteristics. The cut of meat on the left is noticeably less fatty, for instance, than the meat on the right.
Photograph by James P. Blair, National Geographic

Discussion Ideas

  • The Nat Geo News article says “[a]bout 90 percent of commodity crops used in the nation’s food supply, including soybeans, sugar beets, and feed corn, are genetically engineered.” Why might agribusinesses and consumers prefer genetically modified organisms? Read the short section on GMOs in our encyclopedic entry on agriculture for some ideas.
    • Genetically engineering organisms allows producers to enhance desirable traits in crops or livestock.
      • Genetic engineering can make a product more widely available, benefitting consumers and agribusiness. From the encyclopedic entry: “A gene from an Arctic plant, for example, could be added (spliced) into the DNA of a strawberry plant to increase the strawberry’s resistance to cold and thus extend its growing season.”
      • Genetic engineering can prevent a plant from contracting a fatal disease. A recent debate in Hawaii, for instance, outlined how only genetically modified papayas survived a deadly virus. This saved the papaya crop, making the fruit available to consumers and protecting the profits of farmers and other agricultural workers.
      • “Businesses sell farmers genetically modified seeds that resist certain pesticides and herbicides produced by the company. With these seeds, farmers can use toxic chemicals without harming the crop.” This is the famous—and famously debated—”Roundup Ready” system.
      • Some consumers prefer GM fruits and vegetables because they do not rot or bruise as easily as non-modified foods.
  • The Nat Geo News article focuses on the food giant General Mills eliminating all GMOs in Cheerios. General Mills strongly supports the use of GMOs and strongly opposes labeling. Why, then, would the company make this change?
    • Money.
      • According to the Nat Geo News article, the change was easy and affordable to make. “There are no GMO oats, the primary ingredient in Cheerios. All General Mills had to do was switch to non-GMO sources of the small amount of cornstarch and sugar added to the cereal.”
      • The Cheerios change was also designed to appeal to consumers who are wary of GMOs. “‘It’s not much of a change at all,’ wrote Tom Forsythe, a General Mills spokesman in a posting on the company website. He added: ‘But it’s not about safety. And it was never about pressure . . . We did it because we think consumers might embrace it.'”

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