General Mills announced that original Cheerios are now made without genetically modified ingredients.
The change comes a year after GMO Inside launched a campaign pressuring General Mills to remove genetically engineered organisms (GMOs) from their popular cereal. GMO Inside, a non-profit run by Green America, called on consumers to use social media to demand the removal of GMOs from Cheerios. About 40,000 Facebook posts later, GMO Inside co-founder John W. Roulac is declaring success:
"This is a huge victory for the non-GMO movement. I want to thank all the 'GMO Insiders' for using social media to convince America’s largest packed food brand to go non-GMO with a major product. History is being made today and more food brands will rush towards non-GMO foods.”
The Cheerios website says the cereal's main ingredient is oats, which is not a GMO crop. However, Cheerios will no longer contain GMO sugar or corn starch. The company has not sought a third-party certification for this product.
According to data from the market research firm IRI, the Cheerios brand sold $364,088,200 of cereal between June of 2012 and June of 2013. Other flavors of Cheerios, like Honey Nut, will not be GMO-free.
It's unclear how big a win this is for the pro-labeling advocates or people who are outright anti-GMO. After all, General Mills will continue to carry hundreds of food items containing GMO ingredients as the parent company of brands including Green Giant, Yoplait, Betty Crocker, Pillsbury and others. General Mills is also represented by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a powerful lobbying group and major financial backer of the campaigns that defeated proposed GMO labeling laws in California and Washington.
A statement on General Mills' website says its against state-by-state labeling laws:
"General Mills supports a national standard for labeling of non-GMO products. The U.S. standard for organic food products is an excellent model. Organic certification and labeling standards established at the national level – not state-by-state – allow organic food producers to reliably certify and label products as “organic.” They also provide a clear, consistent labeling standard upon which organic consumers can rely."
It should also be noted that the national solution proposed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association is an outright ban on GMO labels at the federal level.
Nonetheless, to have a hugely popular brand become GMO-free shows that General Mills is aware of the growing unease with GMO ingredients. One could argue that General Mills sees the writing on the wall, and that the move is preemptive. Or one could see this as another step towards transparency in our food system.