by Marion Nestle
Mar 24 2014

Some musings on non-GMO Cheerios to start the week

I read about General Mills’s introduction of non-GMO Cheerios back in January, but didn’t get around to looking for them until this weekend.

I was expecting to see something like this (thanks Fooducate):

Instead, the information is tucked into a side panel. 

New PictureNew-non-GMO-Label-Original-CheeriosWMSmThis may explain why General Mills is complaining that the non-GMO is not doing a thing to boost sales of Cheerios.  If anything, sales are “down somewhat.”

And here’s a good one: According to one professor, the non-GMO Grape Nuts and Cheerios are going to be less nutritious than the GMO versions.

Post Foods’ new non-GMO Grape Nuts (click here ) no longer include Vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin B12 or vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)*, while the new non-GMO Original Cheerios no longer have Riboflavin on the ingredients list (the old version has 25% of the daily value in a 28 g serving while the new version has 2% of the DV).

How come?  It’s hard to find non-GMO vitamins (who knew?).  Vitamins, it seems are often produced from genetically engineered microorganisms, or from microbes growing in fermentation tanks that are fed a nutrient mix that contains ingredients from GM sugar beets or corn.

Should we be worried about nutritional deprivation among Cheerios eaters?

Cheerios are essentially a vitamin pill wrapped in rapidly absorbable starch.

The ingredients: whole grain oats, corn starch, sugar, salt, tripotassium phosphate, wheat starch.

Everything else is added vitamins.

Personally, I prefer my cereals with no added vitamins (they taste bad).  And I doubt they make much difference to health.

Whether non-GMO will have a noticeable effect on sales of Cheerios remains to be seen.

If General Mills doesn’t advertise the change, it can’t expect non-GMO to boost sales.

Curious, no?


  • Karl Haro von Mogel

    I think you’re missing a part of the picture. Cheerios is a mainstream cereal, and most people are indifferent or undecided on the issue of GMOs. Sales would expect to be improved if it was an issue that their customers cared about. It is not. Advertising the non-GMO content on the front of the box in large letter wouldn’t change that. In fact, they bought lots of Google advertising space to spread the word about the change, and their reasons for the change – so you can’t say they didn’t advertise it.
    I’m a little surprised to hear your opinion on vitamin supplementation of cereals. It has been shown that supplementation of staple foods with critical vitamins has been important for people who do not get enough of them. Birth defects have been prevented by supplementation of wheat flour. It is especially important for poor and undernourished people. You’re not either of those, so you can definitely make it a matter of preference. But if the vitamin content of breakfast cereals is so unimportant – why not push to have them removed entirely? It would make the foods more affordable, no?
    I would instead be concerned about how they made this change to the recipe and vitamin content without informing people about the nutritional change.

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  • Trish

    But Karl, I don’t want to eat GMOs. <<< here are the side effects to eating non-organic crops.

  • Thanks for this column, and especially the information about vitamins being genetically engineered. (Most vitamins are sprayed on breakfast cereals anyway — who wants those?) General Mills marketing Original Cheerios as a non-GMO product – and not even a certified non-GMO product – was a marketing ploy. I didn’t expect their sales to decline but I find it interesting that they did. I hope itt shows that Americans are getting more savvy about GMOs!

    Here’s my take:

  • Amused Onlooker

    Can’t win for losing. Cheerios puts the claim on a modest side label consistent with your precious nutrition information labels and they are criticized for hiding the claim. If, in fact, they had splashed the claim across the front of the box in large red font, as you depict, you would angrily accuse them of “healthwashing”, would you not? Bottom line is you and your cult followers detest the market system. I recall Campbell’s soup caved to your cult’s silly carping over salt and obediently introduced a set of low sodium soups. Those didn’t sell, probably because they were flavorless (just like the veggie glop you think kids should be forced to eat in schools). I applaud big business whenever they successfully exploit your silly food phobias in their marketing. But can’t win ’em all, so I trust Cheerios hasn’t wasted too much R&D money on this attempt to appease your noisy professionally dissatisfied minority. Keep complaining — no doubt you will stumble onto something food producers can capitalize upon. GMO is such an anal retentive non-issue anyway. Right up your alley, no?

  • Guest

    I would agree with Karl, GMO enhanced food, like Cheerios, is one way to help solve food inequity. While some people can afford the advantages offered by consuming only organic food, most of the world can barely afford a sustainable diet. If you have the means to eat 100% organic – go for it, but don’t fool yourself into believing you are doing the world a favor.

  • fred tully

    After Grain Brain and Wheat Belly, how can anyone still eat CEREAL, GMO or not?
    Try no grains for 30 days, and you may see the difference.

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  • Ewan_R

    “Personally, I prefer my cereals with no added vitamins (they taste bad).
    And I doubt they make much difference to health.”

    Your doubts probably play out just fine in someone with the wealth and education to plan and execute a rounded diet. The literature however would suggest that fortification of food has real measurable impact and has been successful in the USA at least in terms of improving the intake of nutrients – while evidence is sparse as to the benefits of said… it seems rather odd to think there may not be any (the power to detect effects in even large trials makes it practically an unknowable – I’d predict a relatively small but meaningful effect in what is a tremendously noisy dataset – so yeah, the statistics are always going to show nothing, but that isn’t indicative that nothing is going on)

    It is nice however to see that the general fearmongering of the anti-biotech brigade has had a real potential negative impact on the intake of nutrients. Well played. Well played indeed.

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  • David Despain

    Karl has made excellent points. It’s very surprising to hear Marion Nestle is opposed to fortifying cereal with vitamins, which is important for children. Also, almost all B vitamins (folic acid, B12, etc) are produced in fermentation tanks using genetically modified organisms. It is a very sustainable process. The same goes for several flavor components of several products. The alternative would be extraction, which is expensive and not nearly as sustainable. It’s about time we started to praising the technology of genetic modification for what it has given us.

  • Karin Six

    The more research I do on GMOs, the more I don’t like them… Wait a bit… With the public becoming more savvy against pesticides and GMOs, thing are bound to turn around!

  • Cynthia Rose

    Did the original recipe for CheeriOats contain sugar?