Middle East Shoppers: Give These O’s a No?

Social media flexes its muscles in a recent grassroots backlash against General Mills, one of the world’s leading food conglomerates whose brand portfolio includes more than 100 leading U.S. brands and product leaders around the world.

Last December, General Mills’ Cheerios brand released a Facebook app asking “fans” to “show what Cheerios mean to them.”  

The app allowed users to create their own placards using Cheerios’ trademarked black font on a yellow background, where dots and periods featured little cheerios. One day later, the app was yanked when thousands of angry consumers used the site as a platform to create anti-GMO statements.

Two of the top three ingredients in Cheerios are corn starch and sugar, ingredients commonly subject to genetic engineering. General Mills, which donated over $1 million to a Californian campaign to defeat a genetic engineering labeling law, recently got a taste of the grassroots backlash.

California’s Proposition 37, which would have required GE foods to be labeled as such (and be prevented from being mislabeled as “natural”) was defeated last November in large part due to massive donations from multinational corporations that hide GE ingredients behind “wholesome” advertising.  General Mills donated over $1 million to defeat the proposition.

Organic foods are required by U.S. federal law to be produced in ways that promote ecological sustainability, without common toxic and genetically engineered ingredients.

But organic products are increasingly being forced to compete with products that are labeled as “natural.” There are no restrictions on the term “natural”, and it often constitutes nothing more than meaningless marketing hype. Most disturbing of all, many foods labeled as “natural” actually contain genetically engineered ingredients, and breakfast cereals are particularly vulnerable.

Washington state and Vermont are now working to get GE labeling laws passed in 2013. Cheerios diligently deleted posts as quickly as they could, and most have now been removed, along with the app. But screenshots of some of the creations have been preserved on Cheeseslave2 and the Happy Place3 website.

Parents are Waking Up to the Dangers of Genetically Engineered Foods

In a recent press release, Alisa Gravitz, CEO and president of Green America, stated:

“The sheer volume of comments on Cheerios’ Facebook page raising concerns around genetically engineered ingredients is incredibly inspiring.  It is also amazing to see the creativity that visitors to Cheerios’ Facebook page use to call out Cheerios on using their customers as a science experiment for GMO consumption. Cheerios is a cereal that is frequently fed to children, and many of the comments are from concerned parents who are worried about the fact that they have been feeding a cereal with genetically engineered ingredients to their children.”

One such parent posted a comment on Cheerios Facebook page saying,

“So sorry that the food my kids loved as toddlers is one I can’t support anymore. I can’t believe that General Mills has the well-being of its customers in mind when it contributes to movement against labeling of GMOs.”

According to the Cheerios website, “Cheerios has been a family favorite for years — with good reason! Its wholesome goodness is perfect for toddlers to adults and everyone in between. Made from whole grain oats, Cheerios has no artificial colors or flavors. Those wholesome little O’s have only one gram of sugar.

“They’re low in fat, have no saturated fat and are naturally cholesterol free. Cheerios are also an excellent source of folic acid and a good source of fiber. Maybe that’s why parents feel so good about serving Cheerios to their families. It’s a healthy way to start the day, a perfect snack, and tastes great in a recipe. You can trust Cheerios for a lifetime of wholesome goodness for your whole family.”

The thing is we can’t know since they don’t have to disclose whether they’re using GE ingredients or not on the label. But the fact that General Mills chose to cough up well over a million dollars to avoid GE labeling definitely leads one to believe that, most likely, these (and/or other ingredients) of Cheerios ARE indeed the genetically modified versions. So much for “trust” for “a lifetime of wholesome goodness.”

The fact that General Mills would rather pay millions to hide that their products contain GE ingredients rather than give you the choice to buy something else, or reformulate their product without GE ingredients (which would be the sensible thing to do if they were really concerned about children’s long-term health and well-being) is quite telling.

Besides the issue of whether the sugar in your favorite processed food is genetically engineered or not, it’s important to remember that sugary breakfast cereals are bad news for your child’s health no matter what.

Many are utterly fooled by advertisements promising “wholesome goodness,” when it’s really very little difference between many popular breakfast cereals and a candy bar.

The following video illustrates this quite effectively. Honey Nut Cheerios contains the equivalent of four added teaspoons of sugar in each bowl compared to the original Cheerios. Few parents would allow their child to heap four teaspoons of sugar onto their cereal. Yet they fail to understand just how much sugar is hidden in the processed foods they serve their kids each day.

The Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity is a non-profit research and public policy organization devoted to improving the world’s diet, preventing obesity, and reducing weight stigma.  The Center serves as a leading research institution and clearinghouse for resources that add to our understanding of the complex forces affecting how we eat, how we stigmatize overweight and obese people, and how we can change.

My octogenarian mom eats Cheerios for their oat content; she believes it helps keep her cholesterol levels low. My kids adored the tiny rings; they remain high on the toddler snack list since they require no refrigeration or messy clean-up.

Mostly I loved them as potty training tools: I’d toss a few into the toilet and urge my tiny son to “sink them”, a discount version of pricey toilet targets sold in those educational mail order catalogs.

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