Just the facts. From the experts.

General Mills, the maker of Cheerios, recently announced it was making the iconic cereal brand GMO-free. Naturally, an announcement like this creates questions in the minds of consumers, and Best Food Facts is here to help consumers understand just what this change means to their families.

Best Food Facts: What ingredients in Cheerios were genetically modified?

The Cheerios we know and love were made with corn starch and sugar from genetically modified crops. The main Cheerios ingredient is oats, which are not genetically modified. The company will now source corn starch from non-GMO corn and will source sugar from non-GMO pure cane sugar. According to Margaret Smith, professor of plant breeding and genetics at Cornell University, this switch will not be noticeable to consumers.

“Corn starch and sugar are highly refined products, so they contain no DNA (which is what is introduced into a genetically engineered organism) and no protein (which is what the new DNA would produce in a genetically engineered organism). Because of that, corn starch and sugar from a genetically engineered corn variety are nutritionally and chemically identical to corn starch or sugar from a non-genetically engineered variety,” said Smith.   

Smith goes on to explain the refining process (Warning: it's a little science-y, but we like science at Best Food Facts!): “In the case of corn starch, for example, this means that the corn has been wet milled and the different constituents from the kernels separated and purified. What gets extracted in the starch fraction is just that – starch. It is a highly purified mix of whatever starch molecules were in the corn kernel, separated from the cells in which the starch granules were originally located and from the DNA, proteins, and other constituents that make up a whole kernel of corn. After the milling, extraction, and separation processes used in producing corn starch, one is left with corn starch that is chemically just starch molecules and contains no DNA and no proteins.

 “The process of extracting sugar from sugar beets is not the same as corn wet milling for starch, but is similar in that the final product is highly refined and consists of just sugar molecules, separated from the DNA, protein, and all the other things that were originally present in the sugar beet,” said Smith.

Smith also says since the reformulation will provide consumers with a nutritionally and chemically identical product, the benefit to consumers will be “…to give them the option to buy a product that does not support planting more acres to genetically engineered crop varieties.”

Best Food Facts: If there’s no change in nutritional value or chemical makeup, why is Cheerios changing?

In 2012, activist groups GMO Inside and Green America launched a campaign to get Cheerios to switch to all non-GMO ingredients. While pressure from activist groups is likely not the sole reason for the change, General Mills spokesman Mike Siemienas said, “We do value our Cheerios fans and we do listen to their thoughts and suggestions.”

Best Food Facts: Will this change to Cheerios make them safer for me and my family to eat?

Cheerios will be as safe as they’ve always been. According to Dr. Ruth MacDonald, Chair of the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition and professor at Iowa State University, “…GMOs have been tested, they have been approved by the US government, all of the major health-related scientific foundations consider them to be safe, and there is a long record of safe use with no evidence of harm to human health.” So the switch from GMO-sourced corn starch and sugar to non-GMO corn starch and sugar will have no impact on the safety of the product.

For more information on genetically-modified foods, check out our five-part video series:  

GMO 101 

Are genetically modified foods dangerous to eat?

Are GMOs Harmful to the Environment?

Are GM Foods Nutritionally Different? 

GM Labeling

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