Dear General Mills:

Dear General Mills:

Well, you caved.

According to this morning’s news reports your original yellow box of wholesome good ‘O’s will now contain no genetically modified ingredients.  Some news outlets are reporting just that.  Others, I’m sure you’ve noticed, are declaring your decision as a victory.  Personally, victory seems to be a rather arrogant assessment of the age-old saying, ‘the customer is always right’.  Because that makes perfect sense that the consumer would be right . . . always, about your area of expertise.  After all, the average Joe and Jane just may have food manufacturer on their resume in addition to parent, lawyer, teacher, doctor, farmer, etc. 

A farmer friend and ag journalist, Holly Spangler wrote a thoughtful piece about this very thing. Take a moment to read it, please.

Cheerios

A Cheerios box – original, honey-nut, apple cinnamon – is always on our pantry shelf.

Your spokesperson, Mike Siemienas said, “We do value our Cheerios fans and we do listen to their thoughts and suggestions.”

Kudos to companies who value their bread and butter.  But who exactly are your “fans”?

I don’t know about you but I consider fans kind of like friends.  Supportive, understanding, non-judgmental, accepting that one may have knowledge the other does not.

So, Green America, the activist group that launched this non-gmo campaign against you and your “iconic” (Green America’s descriptor, hmmm.  Why’d they choose you?) yellow box is actually a Cheerios fan club? Your statement would have been more truthful if it identified the orchestrated social media campaign that pushed you over the edge.

Okay, enough with the sarcasm and dismay. Here’s the thing . . .

I’m a Cheerios consumer. Always have been and always will be.  Your cereals are popular in my house and while I’m saddened that you caved to your “fans”, I won’t boycott your product.  What I will ask for however is an explanation.

You see, farmers and ranchers have been engaged in this movement to explain modern agriculture and food production for quite some time now.  My husband and I farm with his family.  We raise corn, soybeans and seed corn. We do plant genetically modified corn and soybean seeds.  That is just a piece of my farm story that I share on social media in addition to speaking at meetings, joining town hall type discussions, etc.

While farmers and ranchers seem fully engaged in this effort to communicate and converse with the non-farming public, I’ve discovered that other parts of the food chain aren’t as willing to do so.  OR maybe just haven’t joined in.

So, here’s your invitation General Mills.  Join us.  You are a BIG piece of the food chain.  What you chose to do with the ingredients derived from gm or non-gm crops is a BIG part of this conversation.

So, your decision to source non-gm ingredients is a BIG deal to all of us who are in the business of food. Instead of just generalizing that you’ll do what your “fans” ask and that it requires a significant investment, tell us why.

Your decision would make an interesting study of the economics behind a gm to non-gm switch.  Did you really take a social media campaign at face value?  Did you make this decision because of alleged gmo-safety concerns? What type of research did you do?  Have you read the reports stating over and over that ingredients derived from gm-crops are safe?  What is your stance on that?

As a farmer I am particularly interested in your former sources of ingredients and now your current sources.  What type of reporting procedures are in place to ensure the origin and make-up of your ingredients?  How does this affect your suppliers and their affiliates?

As a consumer, I’d like to know about this “significant investment” and if it is one that I’m going to see on the price of the box?  Or will it be reflected in the size of the box, the amount in the box, etc.?

In the end, you’ve made your decision for whatever reason and you’ll gain some time in the media.  Maybe that’s your end goal.  You have a business to run.  So do I, and in the big picture, my business is affected by your business.  How about we work together on telling a farm/food story that involves inclusion, respect of differences and acknowledgement that it takes all kinds to feed a hungry world?

Sincerely,

Katie Pratt

Farmer, mother, and Cheerios consumer

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25 responses to “Dear General Mills:

  1. A lot of the articles I have been reading keep saying that GM made the change even though there is “little evidence that GMOs are any less safe.” How about NO evidence. I find if a bit ironic that farmers (and country people in general) are stereotyped as being conservative and against change. Funny how the stigma has flipped with farmers being mostly in support of the advanced tech and progression while urban dwellers are the opposers.

    • Good point. And I do commend General Mills for pointing out that oats are not a gm-crop. But that and the gmo-safety issue seem to be lost on the crowds jumping up and down, shouting, “Victory!”.

  2. I agree. I don’t see this as any kind of victory. This will only serve as a platform for more misinformation

  3. Reblogged this on Hewitt Farms, Inc. and commented:
    Coming from MN, where General Mills is headquartered, I am disappointed in their decisions. If anything, they are adding more confusion to the food industry with this. I hope you read Katie’s post and understand that of course, Cheerios don’t contain GM oats-they don’t exist!

  4. Katie, thank you for this post. Considering General Mills is headquartered in MN, I can’t feel anything but disappointed in their decisions and comments. I reblogged this to my blog to help share what is happening and appreciate your thoughts!

  5. I love the comment, I wish I could find it now, from General Mills saying that they aren’t going to require their honey nut and apple cinnamon cheerios to be GMO free, because that would be too cumbersome and costly for them.

    • Yep. Read that one too. In their FAQs – see link in comments below – they stated that making the switch in original Cheerios was just simpler than the others. Fine, whatever. But, I don’t know that reason alone explains the complexity of a switch, which is why it’d be nice to really learn the ins and outs of a companies decision to do this. We could all learn from it.

  6. I have a degree in agriculture, but even I’m not sure how they are going to use non-gm corn. I mean in the simplest terms maize was grown and cultivated by native Americans. When Europeans came here they started growing and cultivating maize, to create a better yield, more flavor and now we call it corn. So, how far back are they going to get non-gm corn? Hasn’t it all been genetically modified?

  7. Our family loves Cheerios, but we will be switching to Honey Nut Cheerios. I don’t love the added sugar, but it’s a way to still support this company and not support this move.

  8. I have 2 words for General Mills: Gregor Mendel.

  9. Hello Illinoisfarmgirl,
    As an investor in General Mills (GM), a consumer of Cheerios and as a small investor in Illinois farming, I applaud your reaction, remarks and comments concerning the recent GM announcement that they will label Cheerios as a Non-GMO product. Big Deal? The announcement is meaningless to them, but it gave them “meaningful” headlines.

    My thought is that this is strictly a marketing ploy by the company. This seems to be the publicly social and politically acceptable thing for them to do. The announcement cost the company nothing and it is “free” publicity. It is so unfortunate that today in this country we tend to let a few vocal activists have an seemingly overwhelming influence over the many, even when the ultimate decisions can be detrimental for all.

    As an investor, I can only hope that several members of the GM Senior Management Team, including it’s Chairman and CEO Mr. Kendall Powell, will have a chance to read your thoughtful comments. They should then give you the courtesy of their thoughtful response.

    Keep fighting the good fight for all of us.
    ED

  10. I picked up a box of regular Cheerios in the store this PM to check the ingredients. The only thing they would have to change is corn starch. They were already using regular sugar.

  11. So disappointed they caved!

    • Yes, disappointed definitely, that this wasn’t used as more of an education piece. I think everyone around the table could have learned from their decision-making process, cost of investing in the change, etc.

  12. Interesting article and post. As someone on the other side of the isle on this one, I think there are a few counter points to be made. The first one being that I think this is, as one person previously noted, a publicity campaign because the majority of the population that is dedicated to not eating GMOs wouldn’t go anywhere near a box of GM cereal, so the fact that they make this statement is not likely going to change the buying habits of the granola eaters. Secondly, while the science behind a genetically modified organism is fairly useful in many situations, the chemicals that they require is what turns many people off to GMOs – the number of times I watch my neighbors spray Roundup on the fields next door and the number of resistant weeds that have started to pop up….not a pretty picture (and I don’t even want to mention the numbers of bees that I have dying off in my hives thanks to many of those chemicals and food deserts monocultures that are out there for miles and miles). Thirdly, this is a consumer-driven change. People may not be totally up on what GMOs are or do to a person (mainly because there has been NO good, long term, third party research studies done in this country as of yet) but they do know that maybe it is about time that we know what is in the food we eat. As a parent, veterinarian, and organic farmer with a child that is directly affected (significantly) by ingredients in the food she eats, I have started to sit up and take notice of what is happening to humans and to the animals that I treat and how they respond to an improvement of the diet. The links between food and health are sometimes hard (if not impossible) to identify because there are always so many variables to be dealt with, but seeing the changes that have taken place in my own life and the health of my 5 kids due to a change of diet, is incredible. I, too, will be interested to see how this goes for GM – like a said before, it likely won’t pull in many of the hard core health food nuts. I personally, haven’t eaten a bowl of Cherrios in about 6 years now and likely never will again. I do understand your livelihood and how it depends on the crops you grow, but it may be time that we all stop and consider the crops we grow.

    • Jen – Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to comment with your perspective. I appreciate you sharing your experiences and thoughts. I think we probably come down on opposite sides of the GMO issue, however the intention of my letter to General Mills wasn’t a gmo vs. non-gmo thing. I really wish they had used this switch to share the hows and whys of it. So much of the labeling conversation involves cost. . . well, GM said this required a significant investment. What was that and will it end up really affecting what a shopper pays or not? They had to switch sources of sugars and starches. So who are they sourcing from now? Domestic farmers or international? What’s the reporting, tracking procedures, etc.? Anyway, we won’t get the answers probably; as you and others have said this is p.r.

  13. Diana Schielein Westart

    Great article Katie! Love that I found your page. Don’t forget the significance of what the fine print in Obamacare is doing also to labeling without being truthful to people who really don’t understand organic vs non organic or gmo vs non gmo..

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