(This article is part of my Culture of Fear series, which exposes different businesses, restaurants, and people that choose to spread lies and misconceptions about farmers in order to further their agenda or make a buck.)
If ever we needed a story to show that companies use marketing as a deceptive way to sell products, Cheerios has now become your poster child.
On the company’s blog, the VP of Global Communications for General Mills Tom Forsythe announced that the company will now have a label on the iconic Cheerios box that says “not made with genetically modified ingredients.”
But here’s the weird thing: Cheerios wasn’t made with any genetically modified products to begin with.
Did we change Cheerios?
No. Not really.
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.
So, why all of a sudden create a label for something that never existed to begin with? Forsythe claims it wasn’t about safety concerns – even he recognizes that safety and biotech isn’t an issue. It also wasn’t about pressure – the company isn’t pulling genetically modified ingredients from any of its other cereals.
Forsythe simply said: “We did it because we think consumers may embrace it.”
Let’s be honest about what he really meant: consumers are afraid and we want to capitalize on it.
What else could he possibly be saying? After all, the company’s stance on biotech crops remains the same and, quite frankly, serves a great resource for all of the world organizations that have approved them as safe. The company opposes state based labeling (which, really, is unconstitutional…), but would be in favor of a national label. And they still use them in their other cereals.
In reality, Cheerios isn’t changing at all. Margaret Smith, professor of plant breeding at Cornell says:
Corn starch and sugar are highly refined products, so they contain no DNA (which is what is introduced into a genetically engineered organism) and no protein (which is what the new DNA would produce in a genetically engineered organism). Because of that, corn starch and sugar from a genetically engineered corn variety are nutritionally and chemically identical to corn starch or sugar from a non-genetically engineered variety.
It is the exact same cereal.
No, clearly General Mills realizes that there are a whole lot of confused consumers out there. Some of them have been needlessly scared by anti-GMO activists. So, why not take advantage of the situation and create this label? It doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t cost us anything more. But it will tap into those individuals who are afraid, or you might be unsure, or who might just bite. Because when our box of cereal is sitting on the shelf next a box of cereal without a label, maybe they’ll pick ours.
And by choosing to give in and take that route, Cheerios is taking advantage of that culture of fear for profit.
It’s going to be really, really hard for me to give up my Cheerios in the morning, but I will. Because I can’t support or condone such actions with my hard earned dollars. And neither should you.