Is the Cheerios News Really a Win for the Anti-GMO Movement?
The company's decision to declare the original Cheerios product free of genetically modified ingredients is a shrewd move.
After pooling resources with a consortium of food and chemical heavyweights -- including Monsanto (NYSE:MON), Nestle (OTCMKTS:NSRGY), PepsiCo (NYSE:PEP), and DuPont (NYSE:DD) -- to successfully defeat ballot measures requiring the labeling of products containing genetically modified crops, General Mills has made a 180-degree turn on its once-hardline position.
Suddenly the company is not only in favor of re-stamping the Cheerios boxes, but the new labels will actually read "Not Made With Genetically Modified Ingredients." The announcement on Thursday from company spokesman Mike Siemienas makes the 73-year-old cereal the highest profile food brand to abandon recombinant DNA technology in its production. The labels will also warn of the presence of trace amounts of GMO due to the manufacturing process.
But this ingredient change isn't exactly sweeping across the General Mills food and beverage lineup; it is, in fact, strictly confined to the original Cheerios product. All other varieties, like Apple Cinnamon Cheerios, Multi Grain Cheerios, and Honey Nut Cheerios -- the top-selling cereal in the nation, consumed by nearly 6.4 million Americans -- will continue to be genetically engineered.
Original Cheerios is the easiest fix since, unlike the aforementioned brands, its main ingredient is oats, rather than corn, which is biotech-friendly.
Still, General Mills wasn't legally required to phase out GMO from any flavor at all. Citizens in both Washington state and California rejected voter initiatives that would force transparency in the labeling of GMO products (though the monied food lobby threatened voters with increased grocery costs), so General Mills was free to make its Cheerios with all the lab-grown Os it pleased.
And nothing likely would have changed if not for a couple of persistent consumer-advocacy groups demanding it. Unable to outspend the Grocery Manufacturers Association during elections, Green America and GMO Inside harnessed the power of petitioning and the ringing mouthpiece of social media to launch its No GMOs, Cheerios! campaign.
"Everyone should have the right to choose foods that are safe for themselves, their families, and the environment," said campaign director Elizabeth O'Connell. "That's why GMO Inside urges food manufacturers to be environmentally responsible, transparent with their ingredient sourcing and disclosure, and end their use of genetically modified organisms. If General Mills can sell Cheerios without GMOs in Europe, there is no reason why the company cannot phase out GMOs in Cheerios and its other products in the US as well."
That message resonated with enough Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) posters to rankle the top brass at General Mills, and the decision to de-Frankenstein Cheerios was put in motion.
But the anti-GMO movement shouldn't count its free-range chickens before they hatch. Original Cheerios is, arguably, the most conspicuous brand in the General Mills product line, thus grabbing the most headlines and delivering the biggest bang for the buck in placating the opposition. The fact that banning GMO products from its ingredient list, versus that of other products, mitigates what otherwise would be a relatively costly burden in production makes this particular cereal an obvious choice for this PR campaign.
Unless General Mills follows up this cleverly publicized move with more offerings from the hundreds in its product roster, Cheerios will be little more than a red herring in a bright-yellow box.
The information on this website solely reflects the analysis of or opinion about the performance of securities and financial markets by the writers whose articles appear on the site. The views expressed by the writers are not necessarily the views of Minyanville Media, Inc. or members of its management. Nothing contained on the website is intended to constitute a recommendation or advice addressed to an individual investor or category of investors to purchase, sell or hold any security, or to take any action with respect to the prospective movement of the securities markets or to solicit the purchase or sale of any security. Any investment decisions must be made by the reader either individually or in consultation with his or her investment professional. Minyanville writers and staff may trade or hold positions in securities that are discussed in articles appearing on the website. Writers of articles are required to disclose whether they have a position in any stock or fund discussed in an article, but are not permitted to disclose the size or direction of the position. Nothing on this website is intended to solicit business of any kind for a writer's business or fund. Minyanville management and staff as well as contributing writers will not respond to emails or other communications requesting investment advice.
Copyright 2011 Minyanville Media, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Daily Recap Newsletter