In January, we told you about General Mills’ most recent marketing ploy aimed at reeling in more cereal buyers: adding a GMO-free label to Cheerios, it’s most popular cereal brand.
Now, it looks like General Mills is flip-flopping like a cornered politician.
A few weeks ago, General Mills announced that, despite the change in its sourcing of ingredients to make original Cheerios GMO-free, they hadn’t seen any increase in sales. And now, they’ve decided to give very public backing to the science and safety of GMO products.
Previously, General Mills has supported GMO products — mostly because they’ve used them in their other products. But in their recently released 2014 Global Responsibility report, General Mills affirmed biotechnology as a key to feeding a growing population. In fact, in the report, General Mills noted that “Global experts project that to meet the growing needs of an increasingly hungry world, we will need at least 50 percent more food, 45 percent more energy, and 30 percent more water.” The reporter went further to say:
“SAFE – We know consumers care about the foods they eat – and we care about the foods we provide. As genetically modified (GM) ingredients become more common in the global food supply, particularly in the U.S., we know that some consumers may have questions about this technology. On safety – our No. 1 priority – we find broad and deep global consensus among food and safety regulatory bodies that approved GM ingredients are safe. Those who have approved biotech crops to be as safe and acceptable as their conventional counterparts include: the WHO, U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, European Food Safety Authority, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Health Canada. The National Academy of Sciences, American Medical Association, and the British Royal Society also say there is no health risk associated with GM foods or ingredients.
“This technology is not new. Biotech seeds have been approved by global food safety agencies and widely used by farmers in food crops for almost 20 years. Because U.S. farmers use GM seed to grow certain crops, 70 percent of foods on U.S. grocery store shelves likely contain GMO ingredients. As a result, if an American food or beverage product lists corn, soy, canola, cottonseed or beet sugar as an ingredient – and it’s not organic – it likely contains GMOs. Global food safety experts will note there has not been a single incident of harm to health or safety demonstrably linked to the use of GMOs anywhere in the world. Numerous studies have found certain benefits, however.”
The company also added:
“It’s a daunting challenge. But biotechnology shows promise to address such issues as strengthening crops against drought and extreme temperature, and delivering more nutritious food, even in poor soil conditions. We agree with the U.N. World Health Organization (WHO) that the development of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) offers the potential for increased agricultural productivity or improved nutritional value that can contribute directly to enhancing human health and development.”
That’s pretty strong GMO-backing coming from a company that, just months earlier, said they were moving to a non-GMO product because “their fans wanted it” — especially when you consider the amount of information about GMOs General Mills included in their report. They even went so far as to explain how GMOs can benefit the environment, allowing farmers to use less insecticide and herbicide. Additionally, it explained that GM crops often require less energy use by farmers, saying “They are associated with reduced greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), improved water quality, improved nitrogen retention, and improved water filtration and erosion reduction in soil.”
So what does this all boil down to? I think it answers the question we asked when we originally blogged about General Mills’ decision to go GMO-free: Did General Mills really feel the need to switch from GMO ingredients to non-GMO ingredients, or are they looking for a little bit of free publicity at little to no cost to them?
I think the answer is pretty clear: It was just a marketing ploy after all. And it failed. Big time.