On Thursday, General Mills announced, without too much fanfare, a small but incredibly important change to its product formulation. By product, we mean just one – Original Cheerios. From GM:
Consumers across the U.S. are seeing “not made with genetically modified ingredients” this week on familiar yellow boxes of original Cheerios.”
The brief note on General Mills corporate site (not the Cheerios site), goes on to explain that this was not really a big deal, as Cheerios hardly contained any GMOs to begin with. The oats, which comprise the majority of the product, were never a genetically modified crop. The first change is that the tiny bit of sugar added is from now solely from sugarcane, not beets. Cane sugar is not genetically modified. The other change is in ingredient number two – modified cornstarch, which the company is now sourcing from non-GMO corn. This is the Cheerios ingredient list:
Whole Grain Oats, Modified Corn Starch, Sugar, Salt, Tripotassium Phosphate, Wheat Starch, Vitamin E (Mixed Tocopherols). vitamins and minerals: Calcium Carbonate, Iron and Zinc (Mineral Nutrients), Vitamin C (Sodium Ascorbate), a B Vitamin (Niacinamide), Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine Hydrochloride), Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), Vitamin B1 (Thiamin Mononitrate), Vitamin A (Palmitate), a B Vitamin (Folic Acid), Vitamin B12, Vitamin D3.
General Mills is one of the largest food companies in the US and is the owner of multiple brands of cereals, as well as Yoplait yogurt, Progresso soups, Pillsbury, Green Giant, Haagen Dazs, and Betty Crocker. The company has poured millions of dollars into campaigns AGAINST labeling of products with genetically modified ingredients, not to mention opposing any product changes.
So why this sudden change of heart?
For one, consumers concerned about potential health effects of GMO foods have been pestering the company through various social media outlets to change its ways. These grass roots efforts are like a mosquito in your bedroom in the middle of the night. The high-pitched buzz in your ear won’t kill you, but you sure as heck want to squash it and get back to the business of sleeping.
Second, it was easy to do. There was no major reformulation, and only a small logistics change was required to change the product.
Third, General Mills changed only one product out of its portfolio of hundreds. This is a test balloon, sent out to the public, to see its reaction where it counts most – the bottom line. If sales of Cheerios will now increase, you can bet your life that more products from GM will start bearing the non-GMO label.
Bottom line: Food companies are a business just like any other. They work to maximize their profit. If we show them that non-GMO will make them more money, that’s what where they will head.