In the 1980s, General Mills’ slogan for its Cheerios breakfast cereal was, “You’re on your toes with Cheerios.”
But did the company stump its toe with its January announcement that it would remove all genetically-modified ingredients from Cheerios?
It looks like it, starting with a lame explanation of why it made the decision, by the vice president of global communications for General Mills, Tom Forsythe.
“Did we change Cheerios? No. Not really,” Forsythe writes in a blog. “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. What changed is how we source and handle certain ingredients in our plants. Why change anything at all? It’s simple. We did it because we think consumers may embrace it.”
Let’s start with Forsythe’s confusion over the acronym, GM, or genetically-modified.
All plant species have been genetically-modified in one way or another, through random processes that occurred over the ages or through human hands, intentional or otherwise. Anti-GMO groups are averse to focusing their wrath on the more precise term, “genetically-engineered,” because they’ve worked so hard to demonize the term, “genetically modified.”
But why ignore the distinction? Henry Miller of the Hoover Institution and Gregory Conko of Competitive Enterprise Institute didn’t when they pointed out in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal that “essentially all oat varieties now planted commercially have been genetically-modified in some way.”
Miller and Conko note that one genetic modification technique for oats uses “wide crosses between cultivated varieties and a number of different wild plants. Today’s commercially planted varieties are almost all derived from those wide-cross lines.”
Miller and Conko say this wide cross hybridization technique, “involves the movement of thousands of unknown and untested alien genes that could unintentionally introduce toxins, allergens or carcinogens into the food supply.
“Toxins and undesirable properties (such as greater susceptibility to pests) have been inadvertently introduced into marketed products by conventional genetic modification techniques.
“Examples include two documented cases each of toxic potatoes and squash bred with simple hybridization. But no such harmful or unintended effects have ever occurred – and are far less likely to occur – with bioengineering.”
Forsythe could have used his blog to delve more deeply into the GMO issue. Instead he proposes that General Mills’ position on “GMOs” hasn’t changed. “The product is essentially the same. So take heart Cheerios lovers! Cheerios isn’t changing. It’s still the One and Only.”
I hate to pour cold milk on Forsythe’s enthusiasm, but a far more appropriate slogan should be, “Cheerios – when it comes to understanding GMOs, we’re a big round zero.”
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