General Mills has decided to remove all GMOs from the original
Cheerios recipe, prompting a debate over whether the US reached a
turning point in the fight over genetically engineered ingredients.
Last week, General Mills announced it would stop using
genetically modified corn starch and sugar cane in its original
Cheerios cereal, though the company continues to believe that
genetically modified organisms (GMO) in general are safe to eat.
Other cereal brands, along with those under the Cheerios label,
such as Honey Nut Cheerios, will still incorporate GMOs for the
The decision marks an about-face for General Mills, which has
spent millions of dollars opposing GMO labeling initiatives in
California and Washington. It’s now the largest American company
to reject GMOs in one of its brands, which could eventually mean
serious consequences for biotech companies like Monsanto and
Dupont if other businesses follow suit. In 2013, Ben &
Jerry’s stated it would remove GMOs from its products, while
Chipotle has announced its intention to gradually eliminate
genetically modified ingredients from its restaurant menu during
According to USA Today, approximately 80 percent of food products
in the United States contain some type of GMO, while the Los
Angeles Times noted that 93 percent of all soybeans grown in the
US are genetically engineered. The same is true for 90 percent of
Although opinion is split on the impact of GMOs on health, a
November study indicated that these modified ingredients could be
related to a growing number of gluten-related disorders,
including intestinal problems, which afflict roughly 18 million
Americans. Supporters believe GMOs are essential to building
crops that will resist disease, but opponents are wary that
engineering seeds in a lab could lead to negative consequences.
Despite opposing viewpoints, multiple polls from 2013 found the American public overwhelmingly in favor of
labeling products featuring GMOs. A New York Times survey
registered 93 percent support for labeling, while a Washington
Post poll ticked even higher with 94 percent.
Efforts to translate that support into action, however, have
sputtered. Ballot initiatives in both California and Washington
failed to garner majority support despite strong initial support,
leading label supporters to accuse multinational corporations of
buying the electorate. Companies like Monsanto, Pepsico, and
their allies spent about $22 million in Washington alone to
defeat the initiative, significantly more than the less than $7
million pro-label groups were able to muster.
Even successful initiatives in Connecticut and Maine risk going
nowhere, since their implementation is tied to the passage of
labeling laws in at least four other Northeastern states.
With no national labeling laws in place, states are largely left
to fend for themselves on the issue. Outside of the US, though,
more than 60 countries – Australia, the European Union, and Japan
– have established labeling laws, with many countries halting the
purchase of some Monsanto products.
This week, a court in Argentina stopped the construction of a
Monsanto seed plant in the country on environmental protection
grounds. The biotech company has been under fire in Argentina
ever since a report by the Associated Press found a link between the pesticides it sells
and the country’s increased rate of birth defects and cancer.
In spite of opposition, however, Monsanto recently reported an 8 percent rise in profits over the
previous year, and expects to grow even more over the course of