General Mills Inc. has started producing Cheerios free of genetically modified content, making the 73-year-old breakfast cereal one of the highest-profile brands to change in the face of growing complaints over such ingredients from activist groups and some consumers.
The change—which only affects original Cheerios, not other varieties like Honey Nut Cheerios—has been in the works since about a year ago, when General Mills began working to change manufacturing for Cheerios to eliminate ingredients containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
The company started manufacturing the GMO-free cereal several weeks ago, and expects it to be available to consumers “shortly,” once the products have made their way through the distribution system and onto shelves. The Cheerios will carry the label “Not Made With Genetically Modified Ingredients,” though the company notes that they could contain trace amounts due to contamination in shipping or manufacturing.
Critics of GMO use in foods called attention to the Cheerios move Thursday, hailing it as a major victory. Advocacy groups have raised concerns about possible health problems from eating foods with GMOs, which are crops like corn grown from seeds genetically engineered for desirable traits like pest resistance. The groups have promoted consumer campaigns in some states to mandate labeling of GMOs in food, and targeted specific brands—including Cheerios—and to change their policies.
Most big food companies have rebuffed such efforts, arguing that there is no evidence of any health problems resulting from GMOs despite decades of use. The food companies also generally have refused voluntarily labeling, saying it is costly and will give consumers a misconception that GMOs are harmful.