Cheerios now GMO free–it’s not what it appears to be

anti-GMO-antiscienceAs we entered 2014, General Mills, the Minnesota-based food processing giant, announced that the breakfast cereal, Cheerios, probably its most popular brand, will be labelled as GMO free. And the anti-science GMO refusers were partying across the land, with the anti-science Huffington Post adding to the Cheerios cheers:

Green America Corporate Responsibility Director Todd Larsen highlighted what General Mills’ decision means in a press release. “Original Cheerios in its famous yellow box will now be non-GMO and this victory sends a message to all food companies that consumers are increasingly looking for non-GMO products and companies need to meet that demand,” he said.

Of course, this was a pretty simple move for General Mills. About all it’s really going to cost them is a new box design to promote “GMO-Free”. It’s inexpensive and simple for General Mills because there are no genetically modified oats as of today. So, they don’t have to find new sources for the grain or most of the other components of the cereal. Actually, the only thing they had to do was switch the tiny amount of beet sugar used to sweeten the cereal to another type, something that is ostensibly an easy step in manufacturing. 

Despite General Mills taking a tiny, inexpensive and risk-free step over the line to label GM-free, and going against what the industry has wanted, no labeling whatsoever, really nothing much has  changed. General Mills is still opposed to all state initiatives demanding GMO labeling, which have mostly failed, probably as a result of corporate expenditures opposing these initiatives. General Mills still thinks genetically modified foods are safe and should not removed from the market. But with over 90% of Americans buying into the anti-science activism and believing that GMO’s are dangerous, and 59 percent of Americans now getting their nutritional advice from the internet, it becomes a brilliant marketing move for an aging brand. Instantly, Cheerios stands out in the supermarket aisle as one of the few major brand cereals that is GMO-free. It was a low-risk move that probably had no material impact on either General Mill’s strategies with genetically modified foods or the cost of manufacturing the cereal.

Although I have no evidence confirming my cynicism, eventually General Mills can increase the price of its GMO-free cereal, because demand will be higher for it. Then other oat cereal manufacturers will do the same, and eventually we’ll have more expensive cereal. I’m sure the anti-science GMO-radicals are happy that companies can make more profits for really not doing much. But that’s capitalism for you.

Sadly, in the false balance world of the interwebs, anti-GMO activists win the discussion, because in any search of GMO’s through Google will invariably lead one to anti-science, “GMO’s are dangerous” websites. It’s more amusing to search through Google’s images function, and find all of the laughably “scary” photoshopped images with things like syringes injecting poisons into ears of corn–one of my personal favorites.

The world of the internet is still portraying the widely ridiculed and scientifically dismissed study by Séralini as “proof” that GMO’s cause cancer. Of course, these anti-GMO websites more often than not ignore the fact that the journal retracted the study because of numerous scientific problems. Well, they might mention the retraction as “proof” that Monsanto runs the whole scientific community.

But the vast scientific consensus, developed through repeated research and systematic reviews, has shown us that GMO’s are safe beyond any doubt. The AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) has also released a statement of the scientific consensus on genetically modified foods (pdf):

The science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe … The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and every other respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion: consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.

There is just no evidence that GMO’s cause harm. There’s no plausible pathway for GMO foods to cause harm. And despite the inappropriateness of providing evidence that refutes the assertion, the simple fact is that all the best scientific evidence has shown that GMO’s are safe to the environment, to animals and to humans.

But still 90% of Americans believe that GMO’s somehow cause harm. But real science ignores the Appeal to Common Belief, only accepts real evidence, and that evidence just doesn’t support the belief that GMO’s cause harm. And General Mills cynical business driven decision to increase sales of Cheerios does not provide any evidence whatsoever that there’s momentum to label foods. Nor does it say anything about the safety of foods (because science supports the safety of GMO foods). The facts are that labeling food GMO-free will cost more, as companies are forced to source guaranteed GMO-ingredients (and that’s going to be impossible to guarantee), change packaging, and a whole host of other unintentional consequences. And sadly, the only people who will benefit from this labeling are a small group of anti-science elitists who only care about themselves. The big majority of people will pay much more for something that has NO health benefit whatsoever. And these are people who can barely afford food as it is.

The hypocrisy and arrogance of the anti-GMO crowd is infuriating–they want something because they believe, without any supporting evidence, that GMO’s are dangerous, ignoring the consequences to the poor and disadvantaged across the planet. All they care about is their unsubstantiated cause, not in human beings. Once again, this is the same hypocrisy and arrogance that we hear from global warming deniers, which theoretically sit at the opposite end of the political spectrum than the GMO-refusers. The GMO-refusers ought to be embarrassed that they are in bed with the same illogical, anti-science hysteria provided by the global warming deniers.

It’s sad to me that the environmental cause, a genuinely important one, has been hijacked by these anti-science lunatics. If we have to quit researching and using biotechnology, whether in medicine, food, or other areas, we will certainly lose our fight to improve the human condition, and give the population of this planet a better quality of life.

Key citations:

The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor
Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!