Last spring, General Mills CEO Kendall Powell took a public stand in favor of GMOs, which he stated were environmentally beneficial and safe for human consumption. This week, however, the company announced that its iconic breakfast cereal, original Cheerios, is going GMO-free. Did General Mills have a change of heart? Not at all, as a matter of fact.
Tom Forsythe, vice president of global communications for the company, wrote in a blog post on Thursday that original Cheerios would no longer use genetically modified cornstarch or sugar.
But according to the company, the move has nothing to do with concerns about customer health or safety. Forsythe explained, "We did it because we think consumers may embrace it."
Bloomberg reports the company is hoping its GMO-free Cheerios bring a bump to the product's recently flat sales. But by General Mills' own admission, its gesture isn't that dramatic.
Whole-grain oats are still the main ingredient in Cheerios—genetically modified oats don't exist. So the changes General Mills made addressed the cereal's comparatively small amounts of sugar and cornstarch. And according to CNN, those changes will only apply to the original version of the cereal, not its high-sugar varieties, such as Honey Nut or Apple Cinnamon.
In fact, as Forsythe is quick to point out, General Mills' stance on genetically modified foods hasn't changed at all. "It’s not about safety," he writes. "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."
Still, activist groups are claiming the new version of Cheerios as a victory. Elizabeth O'Connell, director of GMO Inside, a campaign that called for GMO-free Cheerios last year, told The Los Angeles Times, "This shows consumers that their voice does make a difference. Collective action makes a difference.... Having a win is a great way to show we do have power against these huge corporations."