General Mills and GMOs, Together Forever

Don't expect this Big Food brand to get behind labeling laws any time soon.

The company's CEO doesn't think it should put GMO labels on Cheerios and other products. (Photo: Fotosearch/Getty Images)

Apr 30, 2013· 1 MIN READ
Clare Leschin-Hoar's stories on seafood and food politics have appeared in Scientific American, Eating Well and elsewhere.

If you were hoping the thousands of messages left on the Cheerios Facebook page would sway parent company General Mills to abandon its opposition to GMO labeling, you're out of luck.

This morning, Chairman and CEO Kendall Powell made his case for GMOs at the Fortune Brainstorm Green event in Laguna Niguel, CA. He told the audience that genetically modified ingredients are safe, that they provide environmental benefits, and that they're part of the broad solution the company will look to as the global population increases to an expected nine billion people by 2050.

For those who want to avoid genetically modified ingredients, Powell says consumers should seek out certified organic products, including those from General Mills' organic brands Muir Glen and Cascadian Farm.

"Consumers tell us—and I think they're right—they want to know about the ingredients, nutrition information, and safety things like peanuts. They need to know these things," he said. "But we should restrict the use of that label to these important things. If we broaden it to other things, we'll have to add pages to the label. We don't think we should do that."

Powell went on to say that if a label is required on all products that contain genetically modified ingredients, virtually every product in the grocery story will require a label.

"It's going to add costs to consumers for products we believe are completely safe," says Kendall.

During the battle over California's Proposition 37 labeling initiative, General Mills contributed $1.23 million opposing the measure, joining other large food companies like Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Kellogg's. Last November, California voters narrowly rejected the ballot measure.

Powell said General Mills opposed California's Prop. 37 because the company was concerned state-by-state labeling requirements would be too onerous, but he did not elaborate on whether or not the company would fund efforts to defeat similar initiatives that now have spread to 24 separate states—or the new Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, introduced last week by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR).