General Mills Inc. has announced that it has begun producing original Cheerios WITHOUT any genetically modified ingredients. The 73-year-old breakfast cereal is one of the highest-profile brands to make this change, responding to the growing number of complaints in regard to the use of genetically modified ingredients in packaged foods.
This change is only being made to original Cheerios. Other varieties, like Honey Nut Cheerios, Multi-Grain Cheerios and Apple Cinnamon Cheerios are still being manufactured using the same ingredients. General Mills began working towards this change in the manufacturing of original Cheerios about a year ago and began the actual manufacturing process of the GMO-free cereal several weeks ago. They are stating that they expect the new product to be available to consumers “shortly,” once the products have made their way through the distribution system and onto shelves nationwide.
You’ll be able to identify the new GMO-free version of the cereal easily. These Cheerios will carry the label “Not Made With Genetically Modified Ingredients.” General Mills does note, however, that the product could contain trace amounts due to contamination in shipping or manufacturing.
We know that the FoodFacts.com community is well-versed in the debate regarding GMO ingredients in our food supply. GMO critics are calling this major move by Cheerios a victory in the fight against the use of genetically modified ingredients. There are initiatives proposed in several states calling for the labeling of GMO ingredients in our food supply.
While many advocacy groups have petitioned major food manufacturers to change their policies and begin producing their brands without the use of genetically modified ingredients, most large companies have rejected these efforts. They argue that there is no proof of health concerns resulting from the use of GMOs. Most are also against GMO labeling, saying that this would be a costly measure and reinforces a misconception about genetically modified ingredients.
General Mills spokesperson Mike Siemienas stated that “There is broad consensus that food containing GMOs is safe, but we decided to move forward with this in response to consumer demand.” Because the primary ingredient in Cheerios is oats, a crop that isn’t grown from genetically modified seeds, the transition just required General Mills to find new sources of cornstarch and sugar.
“Even that required significant investment,” Mr. Siemienas said. He didn’t provide a figure, but said that the hurdles would make it “difficult, if not impossible” to make Honey Nut Cheerios and other varieties without GMOs.
GMO Inside, a campaign that advocates GMO labeling, said Cheerios is the first major brand of packaged food in the U.S. to make the switch from containing GMOs to marketing itself as non-GMO. Other companies have also said they plan to change. Whole Foods Market Inc. said it will require by 2018 that all food in its stores containing GMOs, disclose the fact on labels. Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. and Kellogg Co.’s Kashi, which markets its cereals and snacks as having “natural ingredients,” have both said they are working on taking GMOs out of their food.
But it is a lengthy and expensive process. Kashi says only 1% of U.S. cropland is organic and around 70% of packaged foods contain GMOs.
This voluntary change by General Mills in the manufacturing of original Cheerios may encourage other large manufacturers to follow suit. While it may be difficult and expensive to source the ingredients and change their processes, a brand as large as Cheerios embracing what companies view as a difficult transition can certainly begin a trend in food manufacturing.