Friday, January 10, 2014

Not So Cheery Os

Last week, General Mills announced that it had stopped sourcing bioengineered corn starch and beet sugar for its original Cheerios. Many consumer advocates lauded the decision, some going so far as to hail it as the beginning of the end of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) altogether. Others, including Matt Dillon, former Executive Director and cofounder of Organic Seed Alliance, said all the celebrating might be premature. The following is an edited version of his post on Facebook.

I'm seeing all this celebration about Cheerios’ decision to source non-GMO corn starch and sourcing cane instead of beet sugar. For instance, people and organizations admired as leaders in the food and farming movement are saying that we should encourage people to buy Cheerios to show General Mills that we appreciate their change in ingredients.

Let’s hold on a second and do a reality check.

Our alternative food and farming movement was founded on the premise that the industrial/conventional/chemical/commodity food machine was unhealthy for people and for the planet. Non-GMO food (that isn’t also organic) is the same old conventional/chemical/exploitative food, both socially and ecologically.

So are these people celebrating Cheerios now saying that the horrendous food and horrendous practices—that for 40-plus years the alternative movement has tried to change—are now acceptable?

A decade ago we were focused on eliminating toxic pesticides from farming. Today we are fine with it, as long as it isn't GMO production. This is two steps backward—into insanity.

Yes, it can be spun as, "Well, General Mills is taking a step in the right direction."

No, they are not. They are eliminating two minor ingredients in one of their many brands. What would be worthy of celebrating is General Mills saying, "We will not buy crops grown with atrazine, 2 4d or methyl iodide. We will not sow corn seed coated in neocotonoids that impact bees. We will not use organophosphate and carbamate insecticides that are deadly to wildlife."

But labeling one brand of cereal as "non-GMO" doesn’t address this. In fact, non-GMO (no matter if it has a label or not) uses all of these harmful practices.

Want to really do something as a consumer? Don't buy products that are trying to give themselves a green halo for sticking a non-GMO label on their package if they aren't at least in transition to organic. Stop letting conventional companies steal "sustainable" dollars from organic farmers who do the real work of sustainability, and reject these straw man labels.

Top photo by Becky Hansmeyer from Flickr.

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