When my boys were little, I didn’t know about genetically modified ingredients. There was no online social network to spread the word about what they were and no online petitions to ask food companies to remove them from their foods. I fed my boys the same foods many other parents fed their children, and one of those foods was Cheerios. They were made with whole grains, low in sugar, and could be taken anywhere. Those little toddler fingers loved to pick them up and pop them in their mouth.

Yesterday, all over my social networks (that didn’t exist when my boys were toddlers), people were praising General Mills. The company put a page on its Cheerios website outlining the GMO content in original Cheerios. In a nutshell, it says Cheerios have always contained very few GMOs because the main ingredient is oats and there are no GMO oats. The GMOs in the cereal came from the cornstarch and sugar, and after “significant investment for over a year,” the company will now source those ingredients from non-GMO sources.

The company’s other Cheerios varieties will still contain GMO ingredients. On the website, it explains that it could be impossible to ever make all the varieties free from GMOs.

Original Cheerios comes only from non-GMO corn, and our sugar is only non-GMO pure cane sugar.  For our other cereals, the widespread use of GM seed in crops such as corn, soy, or beet sugar would make reliably moving to non-GM ingredients difficult, if not impossible.
General Mills also states on the site that GMOs are safe. There’s a bit of artfully crafted double talk in the FAQ when the company answers questions about why all Cheerios in Europe are GMO free and why General Mills opposes GMO labeling.

But, I’m ready to call this a victory, even if it’s only one variety of Cheerios that’s going GMO free. Why? Original Cheerios is a childhood staple. It’s one food that millions of children eat, especially when they’re toddlers. General Mills chose to make this best-selling cereal free from GMOs. Even if they aren’t saying it on the website, I believe that consumer pressure definitely drove their decision.

Over the past year, we’ve seen Kraft take out harmful food coloring in some of their Macaroni and Cheese (although not the original variety), Gatorade remove bromated vegetable oil from its formula, and Whole Foods announce that by 2018 all foods that contain GMOs in their store will be labeled as such.

Consumer voices are being heard and they are making a difference, even if companies aren’t acknowledging that consumers have influenced the changes.

I’m optimistic about what other positive changes in our foods will happen in 2014. How about you?

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Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

General Mills makes huge GMO statement
Consumer victory! The company is taking the genetically modified ingredients out of original Cheerios.