GMOs in Natural Breakfast Cereals

GMOs are found in many breakfast cereals labeled “natural”, including popular brands like Barbara’s, Kashi, and Mother’s.

The Cornucopia Institute tested a wide variety of breakfast cereals for genetically engineered ingredients. What they found is surprising. Even long-time respected natural brands contain 25%-100% GMOs.

The Meaning of Natural

What the customers think “natural” means is different from what companies use “natural” to mean. Customers tend to believe that natural excludes anything unnatural – preservatives, artificial colors and flavors, pesticides, and genetically modified organisms.

Many companies, on the other hand, are simply capitalizing on a lack of labeling laws to confuse customers.

Polls cited in the Cornucopia Institute’s report indicate that nearly two-thirds of consumers believe that natural is the same as organic on the label.

Labeling Requirements

There are no laws or regulations governing what can be called “natural”. A company can decide to put it on any food they want.

Typically, the word “natural” is accompanied by a claim that there are no preservatives or artificial colors or flavors in the food. Since preservatives and artificial colors and flavors are legally required to be on the label, the claim is usually true.

However, it’s the other assumptions that customers bring with the word natural that makes the label deceptive.

Using the word “organic” on a label means something. It’s regulated by U.S. law. Organically produced foods must be grown within a set of legal guidelines, using no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers and so on. Consumers know what they’re getting with the word organic.

Natural can mean anything the company wants it to. What the Cornucopia Institute’s testing found is that “natural” doesn’t mean anything at all.

What Can You Do?

Check your cereal. Some companies that were organic have substituted conventional and genetically engineered ingredients without lowering the price. The Cornucopia Institute has an online cereal scorecard to help sort through the various brands.

October is Non-GMO Month. Sign the petition demanding that the FDA require labeling of genetically engineered ingredients. Contact Rep. Dennis Kucinich and ask him to submit a bill to Congress requiring labeling of GMOs.

Read up on GMOs and find out what the FDA ignored.

Image by Hobbit_71, used with Creative Commons license.

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  1. Natural is largely what you make of it. What is natural? Is corn natural? It doesn’t exist in nature, and was created by humans selecting (read: modifying) the genes. Is wheat natural? It doesn’t exist in nature either, and was a combination of three species, and IIRC 80% has been altered by mutagens. Is triticale natural? Its a cross between wheat and rye, and the hybrid was not able to reproduce until its chromosomes were doubled with colchicine. Do you ever put fruit in your cereal? I do. Did you know that many bananas are produced by tissue culture to prevent the spread of viral diseases? How is tissue culture natural? Sometimes, they even select for mutants cell lines produced during the cloning process. What about trees that are cut up and stuck to each other, a process called grafting, a now ubiquitous technique in fruit production that Jonny Appleseed referred to as ‘wicked.’ In fact, sometimes spontaneously mutated branches of trees, called sports, are selected and grafted. All these things, mutation inducing mutagens, chromosome doubling chemicals, hormone based cloning, and Frankenstein like grafting, their manipulation is considered natural, and are perfectly fine in organic food production. Yet, a transgene from a bacteria that has been altering genes since long before humans even knew what a gene was, that is unnatural? I do not get it. That seems very inconsistent. Of course, this isn’t even going into that fact that the Appeal to Nature is a logical fallacy anyway, but if you want all natural, eat cereal made of teosinte and goatgrass. Otherwise, you’re not being natural, you’re being selective. You’re talking a position and working backwards from there.

    And its funny to talk about the natural label as confusing customers. Confusing customers is trying to get them to think that the origins of a thing matter more than its properties, be it in the form of the natural label or the organic one, which is exactly what it seems is happening here.

    And about labeling, why does no one talk of labeling those other things I mentioned? Where are the labels for food with crops produced with the use of chemical and radiation mutagens? Where are the labels for food with crops produced with somaclonal variation? Where are the labels for food with crops produced with wide crosses and simple selection of genes. Those change the genes even more than genetic engineering. We don’t even put variety labels on stonefruit and berries, and who knows what line of seed a vegetable or grain came from. To select the thing that changes the plants the least, and demand it be labeled, is either extremely inconsistent or hints at great ignorance of just what happens when new varieties are produced. Sure, it would be nice to know everything about food. It would be nice to know where it came from, what farm, if it was picked with fairly compensated labor, what fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, and plant growth regulators were applied and when. Where is your right to know with those? Why are they hiding that from you? Or maybe they aren’t hiding anything at all. There is always something more you could be told about any given product, like what kind of wood is in the paper of a book and how it was harvested, or where the metal of a spoon came from and what forms the alloy it is made of, but you get to a point where reasonably sufficient information has been provided and anything beyond that should be left up to individuals to chose to label it or not label it. Furthermore, those demanding labeling on GE crops, are they going to eat that food? If not, what they’re doing is adding one more thing food producers have to do, which will increase the price of the food for those that buy it. In other words, you’re making me pay for your beliefs. You want non-GE food, fine, you pay for it. I could care less if a Jew or a Muslim want to create a market and pay extra for food labeled Kosher or Halal, as long as they’re not forcing it on me.

    When I buy peaches, I’d love to know if I’m eating an Elberta or a Red Haven or a Flamin Fury or whatever, but I’m not about to act like they’re not all just peaches, nor am I going to increase the costs of peaches for everyone by demanding that growers track their varieties. Where is my ‘right to know’ here, or for any other issue? Why is no one demanding it? Do I not have the right to know what peaches I am eating? Do I mot have the right to know if my bananas and potatoes are from cuttings or cultured clones? Do I not have the right to know if my wheat or citrus was bred from a line that was altered with mutation inducing radiation? Do I not have the right to know if my apple is an origonal Red Delicious or a mutant sport, like Spur Delicious? If not, how are these any different than if something has a transgene in it? Of course, it also needs to be said that a simple label says nothing. If something is GE, what does knowing only that say about the plant? Nothing. Not what gene was inserted, how it was inserted, what promoter was used, what protein it encodes for, what the protein does, if there are any interactions with other proteins (and if so what), if there are any secondary metabolites produced (and if so, what and what it does). To demand information, but only the most non-informative bits, does not make much sense.

    These are things that must be considered when demanding labels, yet I never see any real thought beyond the whole ‘they’re hiding the truth’ trope I so often see from they labeling groups. I doubt most of those people even know of these other ways of modifying a plants DNa, or understand that genetic engineering is not a single monolithic entity but a process that can be used in many entirely different ways. I certainty hope none of this is news to any pro-label people, but I never see them address these issues. Its almost like the driving forces here care nothing for the facts and just want to force a label on everyone else so that they can scare people who do not understand plant science and sell more of their own non-GE food, but I’m sure that’s not the case….right?

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