General Mills made headlines last week with the announcement that that they will begin marketing original Cheerios “not made with genetically modified ingredients.”
In a post about the change, General Mills VP of global communications Tom Forsythe noted that it really is not a big change. “Original Cheerios has always been made with whole grain oats, and there are no GMO oats. We do use a small amount of corn starch in cooking, and just one gram of sugar per serving for taste. And now that corn starch comes only from non-GM corn, and our sugar is only non-GM pure cane sugar.”
But it’s even less of a change than that, according to Margaret Smith, Cornell University professor of plant breeding and genetics, who says Cheerios are just the same as ever.
“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,” she explains. “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.”
The reason General Mills made the “change” and announced it as they did is really simple – money. “We did it because we think consumers may embrace it,” said Forsythe. Chances are the “new” Cheerios will actually be more expensive, as another company spokesman quoted in the Wall Street Journal said it “required significant investment” to make the changes to the original cereal and that it would be “difficult, if not impossible” to make other varieties without GMOs.
Time will tell if the cereal will be more expensive and if GMO-fearful consumers will pay the price. The bigger question is what message this will send to the general public if all they hear is that one of the nation’s largest food companies is going GMO-free.
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