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Cheerios decision proves GMO labeling already exists

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The misinformation related to GMOs continues.

After two major statewide battles to force food companies to label their products related to Genetically Modified Organisms went down in defeat at the ballot box – California’s Prop. 37 and Washington State’s I-522 – a major food manufacturer stepped forward with its own label.

The Huffington Post exclaimed in a headline that “original Cheerios are now GMO-free.” Even the lede proffers the premise that the cereal maker had a change of heart and will no longer make its popular breakfast cereal with GMO ingredients. Score one for the little guy, right? Not so fast.

The problem with that is Cheerios claims it never did make its original brand with GMO ingredients. A quick trip to Cheerios’ website spells this out. While General Mills, the company that owns Cheerios, picks its words carefully to indicate that its labeling change only impacts the original brand of Cheerios and not the others, I could find nowhere that indicated the original brand had made a major shift from GMO ingredients to non-GMO ingredients in the cereal.

Cheerios is clear that its decision does not impact its other brands. “For our other cereals, the widespread use of GM seed in crops such as corn, soy, or beet sugar would make reliably moving to non-GM ingredients difficult, if not impossible,” according to a statement on the Cheerios website.

Still, when word broke that Cheerios was adding a label saying it does not use GMO ingredients in its original brand, the buzz on social media and elsewhere rose accordingly.

What happened here happens all the time: food companies change their labels to attract customers. Cheerios simply found a truthful claim that it could legally make with respect to its product. It’s probably a safe bet that most consumer won’t care a lick whether the ingredients used to make the cereal came from GMO plants or not.

So, while some might want to beat their chest in victory about one cereal manufacturer’s decision to go non-GMO, the truth is the decision was made for marketing purposes, pure and simple.

If perceptions and marketing were not important, then why all the fuss on labels about the health benefits of certain food products? How could the organic industry rise to such financial prominence without effective marketing?

On that subject the Cheerios website continues: “General Mills produces several organic cereals that by definition cannot use GM ingredients – and sell those products national – so we already offer consumers a wide range of non-GM cereal choices.”

I ask: Is that an example of a purely philosophical goal to provide consumers healthier food choices, or a financial decision made by a for-profit company to make more money by capitalizing on effective marketing? You decide.

Eat what you like. Buy foods based on your personal preferences. Realize that much of food marketing is about a perceived benefit and enjoy whatever you choose to fill your pantry and refrigerator with.


Follow me on Twitter @ToddFitchette

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