It seems every company you’ve ever heard of, and many you haven’t, is trying to get your attention on Facebook. Some do it simply by asking you to like their pages, but others actually have apps created specially for them. Such was the case recently with Cheerios, which is made by General Mills, when they asked consumers to type in their favorite Cheerios memories. After all, Cheerios has been around for nearly three quarters of a century. It’s the one in the big yellow box.
Many of us remember seeing that bright box on our breakfast tables, with fond memories of eating it happily every morning. We remember all the commercials and jingles and cute toddlers scarfing up the little doughnut-shaped pieces of cereal. Many of those kids are now grown, and while some happily put that same yellow box on their kids’ breakfast tables, a good many have done an abrupt turn on their love for the cereal. So when the app came out, those grown kids were not bashful in telling all their Facebook friends, as well as General Mills, what they thought about the cereal and the company. Instead posting happy memories, people typed in angry messages expressing their frustration with the company’s policy on GMOs — genetically modified organisms.
Some examples of those messages include “GMO No Thanks,” “Poison,” “Not Safe,” and “Contain Toxic Ingredients.” The once comforting image of that yellow box with the innocent looking pieces of cereal are now spelling out not-so-fond messages. There were so many negative messages that the app was shut down after a day, and the results were removed from Cheerios Facebook page. However, a simple search of images with the words Cheerios and GMOs will result in pages of other messages that people typed using the Cheerios app.
What General Mills didn’t understand was that, although they are a large company with a long and prosperous history, things can turn on a dime when you use social media. People can take a fun app that all the marketing execs say is fabulous, and turn it into a public relations nightmare.
So what exactly are people up in arms about? What exactly is a GMO? How did these GMO products end up in our food? First, a GMO includes seeds that have been remade in a lab to possess certain traits. Unlike selective breeding for those traits, which takes several growing seasons to produce, GMO seeds can be made in a day or two by simply switching out the DNA.
While it’s quick and comparatively easier to use GMO seeds, the outcomes for those who consume the products in not fully known and understood. In fact, some studies point to possible problems with ingestion of GMO grains. They conclude that animals who eat GMO feed may develop problems in their digestive systems, but that the length of the study is not long enough to conclusively prove it. In light of these studies, Europe has required GMO labeling of food. The same cannot be said of the U.S.
General Mills does comply with the labeling requirements in Europe, however, it fails to do it in the U.S. It tries to tout how responsible and responsive it is to its customers. While many U.S. consumers have tried to find out which products contain GMO foods, the only mention is in this one paragraph in a report ironically called Global Responsibility 2012:
“As a consumer-focused company, General Mills tries to deliver what consumers want and need. For that reason, products we produce for Europe do not use genetically modified ingredients, and we offer our U.S. consumers leading brands of organic products as a non-GMO choice.”
In addition to the company not telling its U.S. consumers about any GMO foods it might be using, it further insults the intelligence and savvy of consumers by giving millions of dollars to fight GMO labeling. The company has given over $1 million to help fight Prop 37 in California, which requires GMO labels on food. This has most certainly left a bad taste in many parents’ mouths and ruined any good memories they may have had of the simple cereal that they ate as children.
So the next time you go to the grocery store, and you let your kids pick out their favorite cereals, are you going to worry about GMOs in your children’s breakfast cereal? Whatever the case, it’s clear that we need to ask that this issue be studied more. If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, we want to make sure we’re giving food to our children that is not only healthy, but also safe.