General Mills has kicked off 2014 with the announcement that original Cheerios, the most nostalgic of American breakfast cereals, is now free of genetically modified ingredients. VP of Global Communications Tom Forsythe explains in a blog post that actually the cereal has pretty much been GMO-free all along -- there aren't any GMO oats, so really all the company had to do was change sources for the minimal amount of sugar and corn starch that go into the cereal.
The most interesting thing about this shift is the reasoning behind it. "We did it because we think consumers may embrace it," Forsythe writes, adding that the change wasn't about health, and it wasn't about consumer pressure (General Mills' positive stance on GMO crops has not changed). It was simply something that might drive more sales. And Honey Nut, Apple Cinnamon, and other variations on the original Cheerios will not have the new GMO-free label on their boxes.
If anything, it's an indicator that slowly but surely, consumer desires are shaping the need for major companies to start labeling GMO foods. As Michael Pollan argued in a New York Times op-ed in the heat of the 2012 California debate over the pro-GMO-labeling Prop. 37, American consumers will need to ask for change in the food industry for change to happen. Since then, some labeling legislation has been proposed or passed in other states, Chipotle has begun labeling GMO ingredients, Ben & Jerry's announced it will be GMO-free by 2014, and Whole Foods has announced a commitment to labeling all products containing GMO ingredients sold in its stores by 2018.
Whether you believe that GMOs are good or bad for human consumption, more transparency into our food system is never a bad thing. And General Mills' profit-driven motivations to change are a positive sign that more may be on the way in the future.