Nothing “New” About Non-GMO Cheerios

Last week – General Mills announced that their number one selling cereal brand – Cheerios – will now be made with non-GMO corn starch and sugar. Some consumers will consider this a big change to a household staple – and anti-GMO groups are calling this move a vindication for the concerns about GMO crops. But according to Cornell University Professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics Dr. Margaret Smith – the new cheerios will be no different than the old yellow-boxed product…

“Corn starch is starch. The thing that is novel in a genetically engineered corn is that there is a piece of DNA that is from another organism in there and the DNA produces a protein that a non-genetically engineered corn would not produce. Corn starch does have protein or DNA in it, its purified starch. So the starch is going to be exactly chemically identical, regardless of which variety it comes from.”

This marketing strategy may move Cheerios off the shelf at a faster rate for the short-term – but did General Mills create a slippery slope when it comes to making their other top selling brands GMO-free in the future? Smith weighs in…

“If you are producing corn flakes, that would be a huge change because you would have to find all of your corn supply from varieties that are not genetically engineered. For companies that use a lot of corn, soy, cotton seed oil or canola ingredients, that shift would be much more difficult. They would be looking at buying organic and the supply is not there for a large volume of product.”

Smith says the new GMO-free Cheerios doesn’t give consumers a different option at the grocery store – as it is no different, no safer and no more nutritious than the previous product – but it does give people an option to speak with their dollars…

“The only thing that I can see that it does is to give people an option to not support companies or variety development of genetically engineered. So if you don’t like the technology for whatever reason it gives you the choice to invest your money in a product that doesn’t support the technology.”

Smith acknowledges that a move to a GMO-free product by such a large company is a setback for GMO technology. It is also a prime chance to educate the consumer…

“Cheerios is a major product, but on the other hand it’s a perfect one in which to illustrate what often gets confusing for people. They think of products that have corn starch in them as a genetically engineered food. This is a good opportunity to help people understand that when you have these highly refined ingredients like starch or sugar, it’s just starch or sugar. There aren’t those other products that are remaining in it, whether you are concerned about them or not is a another issue.”

Cornell University Professor Dr. Margaret Smith.


A native of the Texas Panhandle, Rhonda was born and raised on a cotton farm where she saw cotton farming evolve from ditch irrigation to center pivot irrigation and harvest trailers to modules. After graduating from Texas Tech University, she got her start in radio with KGNC News Talk 710 in Amarillo, Texas.

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