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GREEN AMERICA: GENERAL MILLS – MAKER OF CHEERIOS – FLUNKS CORPORATE LEADERSHIP TEST ON HANDLING OF GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS IN FOOD

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Posted: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 5:05 pm

Company Misleads Consumers by Touting Cereal as “Natural,” Fails Transparency Test by Heading Up Fight to Block Disclosure of GMOs in Foods, Offers European Consumers Non-GMO Cheerios – But Won’t Do So in the U.S.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – October 16, 2013 – Food giant General Mills – the maker of Cheerios and other popular brands – prides itself on being at the forefront of corporate social and environmental responsibility. But a new report from Green America’s “GMO Inside” campaign exposes General Mills as anything but a corporate leader.

Available at www.NoGMOsCheerios.org, “Deception at General Mills:  The Real Corporate Social Responsibility Report for General Mills” focuses on Cheerios, America’s most popular breakfast cereal, as a litmus test for the company:

* While General Mills promotes Cheerios for their use of whole grain oats, stating, “the whole grain oats in Cheerios Cereal are natural,” it is silent about the fact that many of the other ingredients in Cheerios, including modified corn starch, sugar, and vitamin E, are at high risk of being genetically modified.

* While concealing its use of GMOs in the United States and Canada, General Mills offers non-GMO Cheerios to consumers in Europe and elsewhere.  The company has declined to make available to U.S. families the same product it sells in Europe and all around the rest of the world.

* General Mills is failing to be transparent.  In a bid to keep American consumers in the dark, the company has spent over $1 million in California to oppose GMO labeling legislation, thus depriving their American consumers with the basic right to know what is in their food.  In Washington State the company is fighting GMO labeling under the guise of the Grocery Manufacturers Association. Polls show that more than 93 percent of Americans support the labeling of GMOs. 

Why focus on General Mills and, more specifically, Cheerios? According to the new report, Cheerios is America’s favorite cereal brand.  AC Nielson reports that more Americans (about 6.4 million people across the nation) start their day with Honey Nut Cheerios than any other cereal.  In 2012 Honey Nut Cheerios sales reached nearly $556 million and regular Cheerios were not far behind, with sales of $364 million, making it the country’s fourth most consumed cereal. General Mills takes pride in the fact that Cheerios is the #1 most trusted cereal for parents with new babies.  Cheerios is often among the first solid food fed to infants in the U.S.

Elizabeth O’Connell, campaigns director, Green America, said:   “Everyone should have the right to choose foods that are safe for themselves, their families, and the environment.  That’s why GMO Inside urges food manufacturers to be environmentally responsible, transparent with their ingredient sourcing and disclosure, and end their use of genetically modified organisms. If General Mills can sell Cheerios without GMOs in Europe, there is no reason why the company cannot phase out GMOs in Cheerios and its other products in the US as well.”

Dr. Robin Berhoft, spokesperson, American Academy of Environmental Medicine, and director, Bernhoft Center for Advanced Medicine, Santa Monica, CA, said:  “GMOs have never been proven safe for human consumption and there is a growing body of evidence that suggests we should take great precaution when developing and marketing genetically engineered foods.  In the absence of clear labeling of GMO food, I advise my patients and consumers to avoid anything packaged and stick to organic and non-GMO products as a healthy step.”

Alexis Baden Mayer, political director, Organic Consumers Association, said: “General Mills has defied consumer demand for non-GMO choices here in the US, while it boasts about the fact that General Mills’ offerings throughout Europe, including Cheerios, are made without any GMOs. Why should Europeans have access to non-GMO Cheerios, while here in the US parents can’t even know that the Cheerios they purchase for their kids have GMOs?”

Michelle Perro, M.D., pediatrician, Institute for Health & Healing, Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation, San Francisco, CA., said:  “The state of our children's health should sound the alarm for every parent, every health care provider, and politicians.  The common denominators in the decline in their health are GMOs and Roundup Ready contamination. Scientific data has shown that glyphosate, the active ingredient in the pesticide Roundup, causes disruption in the biome of the gastrointestinal tract as well as direct toxicity on gut function. In addition, it interferes with liver detoxification pathways so that normal removal of toxins is impaired. As a result, the list of disorders that now are common occurrences in our children includes asthma, allergies, and autoimmune diseases.” 

Green America’s GMO Inside campaign is calling on General Mills to be a leader in its industry by being the first major food corporation to announce a phase-out of GM ingredients, starting with Cheerios.  This change will create ripple effects up the supply chain that will lead to increasing acres of cropland being converted to less destructive, less risky, and less corporate-dominated, non-GMO farming techniques. 

GMO Inside also released today a video highlighting the campaign’s concerns with GMOs in Cheerios. The video lets viewers know that contrary to General Mills’ assertions that Cheerios remain unchanged, the recipe has altered to include GMOs. The video can be found at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KbiDgOkhoyY&feature=youtu.be.

BACKGROUND ON GMOs

As the new report notes, concerns about GMOs are growing.  Contrary to the promises of biotech companies, GMOs are actually increasing pesticide and herbicide use worldwide.  The increased use of these chemicals leads to increased damage to the health of water, soil, air, and pollinator populations (bees and butterflies).  The advent of herbicide-resistant GMOs has contributed to the rise of superbugs and superweeds that cannot be controlled, even with the use of ever more toxic chemicals.  The increased use of pesticides also leads to greater chemical residues on food, which increases consumer health risks.    

The increasing reliance on pesticides and herbicides in GMO farming also has a direct impact on the health of farmworkers and their families.  The federal government estimates that there are 10,000 to 20,000 acute pesticide poisonings among workers in the agricultural industry every year and exposure to these chemicals can lead to cancer, neurological impairments, and death, especially in children.

GMO crops are contaminating fields of non-GMO and organic farms.  Farmers who experience this contamination may be sued for growing patented GMO crops that they never intended to cultivate and do not want in their fields, jeopardizing their organic qualification. 

Finally, increasing research is pointing to negative health impacts of consuming GMOs, which have never been thoroughly evaluated for safety.    Studies on lab animals are demonstrating that GMOs may have alarming health impacts, and more research needs to be conducted, especially long-term studies. There is growing consumer concern about the health and safety of GM crops and more consumers are demanding the right to know what’s in their food.

ABOUT THE GROUPS

Green America is the nation’s leading green economy organization. Founded in 1982, Green America (formerly Co-op America) provides the economic strategies, organizing power and practical tools for businesses, investors, and individuals to solve today’s social and environmental problems. http://www.greenamerica.org.

GMO Inside is a coalition of businesses, organizations, and individuals that support a healthy, GMO-free food system.  The GMO Inside steering committee, led by Green America, includes: Food Democracy Now!, GMO Free USA, Institute for Responsible Technology, Label GMOs, Nutiva, and Food Babe. http://gmoinside.org/.

MEDIA CONTACT: Will Harwood, (703) 276-3255 or wharwood@hastingsgroup.com.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  A streaming audio replay of the news event will be available on the Web at www.NoGMOsCheerios.org as of 3 p.m. EDT on October 16, 2013.

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