February 2014 signals a huge turn of events for non-GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) advocates. General Mills, owner of such brands as Pillsbury, Betty Crocker, and Häagen-Dazs, announced in January that one of its most popular brands, Cheerios, would no longer contain any genetically modified ingredients. In a statement released on its website, the company explained the changes in production processes:
We made investments in new systems at our production facilities to separate the ingredients we use to make original Cheerios from our other products. . . . It’s the unique and simple nature of original Cheerios that made this possible — and even that required significant investment over nearly a year. Cheerios’ principal ingredient has always been whole grain oats, and there are no GMO oats. We use just a small amount of cornstarch in cooking, and just one gram of sugar per serving for taste. So we were able to change how we source and handle ingredients to ensure that the corn starch for original Cheerios comes only from non-GMO corn, and our sugar is only non-GMO pure cane sugar.
The course correction seems to largely be a result of efforts by GMO Inside, an organization “dedicated to helping all Americans know which foods have GMOs inside, and the non-GMO verified and organic certified alternatives to genetically engineered foods.“ GMO Inside’s novel “No GMOs, Cheerios!” campaign encouraged consumers to contact General Mills directly. They creatively utilized Cheerios’ own Facebook application to send the company non-GMO messages.
Publicized on the side of their cereal box, Cheerios encouraged consumers to visit their Facebook page and to share “What Cheerios means to you.” Cheerios outfitted its Facebook page with a special app designed to turn any phrase into the typescript and branding of the cereal—complete with the single Cheerio dotting every “I.”
“People took advantage of Cheerios’ own app,” says [Todd] Larsen [corporate responsibility director for Green America and GMO Inside]. “It’s exciting because we can offer them the information and means to act, but people have it upon themselves to post creative comments.”
GMO Inside is calling on General Mills to use independent certification to guarantee that the company is complying with its non-GMO promise. One such organization, the Non-GMO Project (www.nongmoproject.org), does just that, offering a free market solution to non-GMO labeling “with a common goal of creating a standardized meaning of non-GMO for the North American food industry.” Their strategy aims “to include representatives from all stakeholder groups in the natural products industry, including consumers, retailers, farmers, and manufacturers.” Their voluntary, opt-in solution has been so successful that over 12,500 products currently carry their “Non-GMO Project Verified” labeling, with many likely available at your local grocer.
So, the next time you grocery shop be sure to look for “Non-GMO Project Verified” products and support those companies that are participating in a true free market approach — obviating coercive government intervention — to solving the non-GMO issue.