The cereal maker says it will stop using genetically modified ingredients in its original Cheerios cereal, which it markets heavily to moms.
The whole oats in 73-year-old Cheerios have never contained GMOs, but now the manufacturer will use non-GMO pure cane sugar instead of GMO-y beet sugar, General Mills spokesman Mike Siemienas told USA Today. The company also has switched from certain sources of corn to ensure that its corn sources are not genetically modified.
"We do value our Cheerios fans, and we do listen to their thoughts and suggestions," he said.
The company started manufacturing the GMO-free cereal several weeks ago, and says it will be available to consumers "shortly." The iconic yellow Cheerios boxes will be labeled "Not Made With Genetically Modified Ingredients."
The move is being hailed by anti-GMO activist groups as a huge victory. Activists have been increasingly pressuring food makers to remove GMOs from their foods or at least label foods that contain GMOs, citing possible health problems connected with eating foods with GMOs, which are crops such as corn and soy grown from seeds genetically engineered for desirable traits such as pest resistance.
Whole Foods became the first national grocery chain last year to require all of its suppliers to label all products that contain GMOs by 2018. Chipotle has announced plans to phase out GMOs, and Kashi also says it will phase out GMOs.
However, General Mills says it has no plans to eliminate GMOs from its other cereals sold in the United States, even though most Cheerios varieties sold in Europe are made without GMOs. "For our other (non-organic) 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," the company said in a statement. So other Cheerios flavors such as Honey Nut, Apple Cinnamon and Peanut Butter will remain potentially GMO-tainted.
"Almost half of the cropland in the U.S. is used to grow genetically modified crops, and 70 to 80 percent of the foods in the average grocery store likely contain GMOs," the company said, adding that it believes GMO content is safe for consumption and defiantly insisting that it is offering the new product simply as a marketing move. "It's not about safety," General Mills argues in a statement. "Biotech seeds, also known as genetically modified seeds, have been approved by global food safety agencies and widely used by farmers in global food crops for almost 20 years." (General Mills was one of several major corporations that opposed a Washington state ballot measure in November that would have required labeling of foods containing genetically modified crops.)
Still, for such a major cereal brand to go from GMO to non-GMO is a big effing deal, say anti-GMO activists. "We don't know of any other example of such a major brand of packaged food, eaten by so many Americans, going from being GMO to non-GMO," Todd Larsen, corporate responsibility director at Green America, a green-economy activist group, told USA Today. The group has been pressuring General Mills for more than a year to make Cheerios sans GMOs.
Babies are still going to throw it on the floor.