Does It Matter – General Mills and GMO?

This is a re-post from Local Harvest | Erin Barnett

CherriosEarlier this month, General Mills announced that Cheerios would no longer be made with genetically modified (GMO) ingredients. Anti-GMO activists were pleased, while defenders of Corporate Food insisted it was no big deal. General Mills did have a relatively easy job of it; the only GMO ingredients in its original Cheerios were a little cornstarch and sugar which were readily replaced by non-GMO sources. Unfortunately, General Mills is not removing the GMO ingredients from its myriad other products so there is no reason to think that the company is concerned about the widespread use of GMOs. To the contrary, General Mills owns organic brands Cascadian Farm and Muir Glen which made campaign contributions that helped defeat the GMO labelling initiative in the State of Washington last November. Given all this, some people have suggested that the change with Cheerios was just a PR ploy. Maybe it was. Certainly General Mills knew that the move would appeal to many parents who feed Cheerios to their toddlers. Whatever the motivation, Cheerios going non-GMO is a very small gesture on the part of a very big food conglomerate.

So, does it matter? We at LocalHarvest think it matters deeply over the long run.

Most people in this country find themselves in the cereal aisle at least once a week. Most of those shoppers would probably not go out of their way to find a GMO-free cereal, but given that polls show that the vast majority of Americans want access to GMO-free food, we have to assume that many of them will be glad to have a convenient option. The change with Cheerios is important because it gives everyone a chance to easily and knowingly choose a product that is free of GMOs. What begins with Cheerios may very well carry over to other GMO-free products. Sometimes peoples’ buying patterns actual strengthen their beliefs, which then deepen their commitment to their buying patterns. Anyone who buys organic food has probably experienced this; I know I did. I started buying organic vegetables and fruits out of concern about pesticides. Gradually, organic became a higher priority and I started investing in organic meat. Then I switched to organic milk and yogurt. I’m still working on cheese and get organic grains or beans when I can.

We start with something easy and eventually realize that the issue has become more important to us. We put effort into it. This is one way to create change. One choice leads to another, leads to another, and to a strengthened conviction over time.

Moving toward a GMO-free food system will take a lot more than Cheerios. But if a few million people get in the habit of buying this one GMO-free product, they may begin looking for others. If they do, America’s food manufacturers will respond. What sells gets produced. Meanwhile, if even a couple of million of those people started making a little noise for GMO labelling, it will only be a matter of time before a labelling law gets passed in a populous state, and that could be the tipping point for labelling laws across the nation.

Genetically modified ingredients have infiltrated nearly every corner of the food system with very little public debate about the risks and possible benefits. It is that public discussion, along with the kind of labelling laws already in place in Europe and elsewhere, that we at LocalHarvest feel are vital. GMO-free Cheerios may play a role in furthering those causes…even if that wasn’t General Mills’ intent.

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