WASHINGTON – Cheerios, the cereal that serves as many babies’ first solid food, is getting its O back.
Non-genetically modified oats that is.
General Mills, the makers of Cheerios, is bending to consumer demand by ending the use of genetically altered ingredients in its marquee cereal — a move that indicates the food producer is inching toward providing more responsible products on store shelves, says food expert and lawyer Mary Beth Albright.
Original Cheerios, unlike the Honey Nut or Apple Cinnamon versions, is made mostly from oats, cornstarch and sugar — products that are easily swapped for the non- genetically modified versions, Albright says.
The change is in line with General Mills’ commitment to use “sustainable” ingredients in its products by 2020. European and African countries have raised serious concerns about food made from these altered plants, and some American advocacy groups have questioned whether these foods are healthy or even unsafe for human consumption.
“GMOs are all over the place. They are in probably three-quarters of the processed foods that are on the shelves right now in any given grocery store,” Albright says.
A genetically modified organism is any plant that has been altered using the DNA of another plant. Usually this is done to give the original plant a new desirable trait like pesticide resistance or resistance to weed killers, she says.
The genetic changes allow food to grow more quickly at a great profit, according to Albright.
The dramatic changes in the DNA of the food Americans eat has drawn criticism and concern that these foods are causing health problems like an increase in food allergies like celiac disease, which is an allergy to wheat, or digestive problems. But scientific studies have not concluded that these foods are unsafe, Albright says.
The resistance to pesticides and herbicides also raises environmental concerns because these plants allow farmers to treat their crops with these chemicals.
Some consumers and advocates are concerned because of the unknown long-term impacts from eating and producing these products.
“It’s not the food you were eating 100 years ago. Period. It doesn’t have the genetic link to the wheat we were eating as humans 100 years ago, 1,000 years ago,” Albright says.