"General Mills products are now banned form my house.
If they can't come clean about the ingredients in their cereals, then I don't want them in my house."
~posted yesterday on Cheerios Facebook page.
The eater had just learned that Cheerios contain genetically engineered ingredients, novel ingredients for which no long-term human safety studies have been conducted, and that the company had failed to label these ingredients on their cereal boxes giving consumers the ability to make an informed choice when it comes to feeding their families.
Cheerios has just launched a new app and a new Facebook campaign calling for customer feedback, but what happened could not have been in their forward looking statements.
As consumers began posting, it became clear: eaters felt duped.
And they were using social media to broadcast their sentiment.
Cheerios is a staple in so many households. It was in ours. So it's tough to learn that these ingredients were quietly slipped into our food supply without labels in the 1990s, especially for those of us that fed our children these cereals, hopped up on ingredients now patented by some of the world's largest chemical corporation for their novelty. It's not what any mom or dad or eater really wants to learn.
But we are having a food awakening, largely driven by the rates of diseases that we are seeing around the country and social media. 41% of are expected to get cancer in our lifetimes, seven-fold increases in hospitalizations related to food allergic reactions has occurred and at least 2 children in every school classroom now have a food allergy.
Today, food contains foreign proteins, known as genetically modified organisms ("GMOs") that never before existed in our food supply. Favorite brands like Cheerios now contain genetically engineered ingredients. These ingredients weren't in the Cheerios we ate as kids. And food allergies are when are bodies sees food as foreign and launches an inflammatory response to drive out the foreign invader.
So are these genetically engineered ingredients causing the allergic reaction? Are we allergic to the foods we ate as kids or to these new proteins now found in our foods? And why are companies so allergic to labeling these genetically engineered ingredients?
Walk into any allergist office and ask if they have a test to determine if you are allergic to genetically engineered soybeans or organic soybeans and you will most likely be met with a blank stare. If you ask if you are allergic to milk or the artificial growth hormones created by genetically engineering an e.coli bacteria, you'll be met with a similar look. The fact is we don't yet have those tests, and we just don't know.
Which is in part why countries around the world, from all of the countries in the European Union, to the UK, to Australia, Japan, even Russia, China and India label these ingredients. Because we do not yet know what the trajectory looks like when it comes to long-term exposure and human consumption.
Some consumers are taking it into their own hands. They are launching petitions, with millions calling on the FDA to label these ingredients. They are introducing ballot initiatitives, asking for the labeling of these ingredients at the state level. And they are reaching out directly to the companies for market-driven solutions, highlighting the legal risks that continuing to carry these ingredients in their products, unlabeled, appears to present. From lawsuits aimed at Frito-Lay to another aimed at the makers of Goldfish, consumers are coming together, demanding the right to know what is in their food and demanding truth in labeling.
It makes sense, as liberty is a founding principal of our country. And the liberty to know what ingredients are in the foods we eat everyday seems fundamental.
So how hard is it to change an ingredient label?
Changing labels is common practice. The food industry actually labels genetically engineered ingredients in other countries around the world. They also label allergens, fat content, gluten free here in the U.S., and those labels are constantly changing. Adding the words "genetically engineered" in front of the soybean or canola oil or in from of the words "corn starch" is not going to be what breaks the bank. What might get expensive for food companies is when the customer base begins to shrink once consumers are aware that these ingredients have been inserted into some of their favorite foods without their knowledge. Expenses might also begin to pile up with the growing number of lawsuits or the decline in sales as a growing number of consumers choose to opt out of foods that contain these new ingredients.
So in light of this growing awareness, this food awakening and the consumer sentiment towards genetically engineered foods so swiftly demonstrated on Cheerios Facebook page, the food industry might want to turn its focus to the supply chain and how to source more non-genetically engineered ingredients. Work with the farmers to build out supply. Work with the consumers to address the growing demand. It's a great brand building opportunity, especially in light of the fact that a lot of these corporations already make products free from genetically engineered ingredients for eaters in other countries. Manage the fiduciary duty to avoid any liability that genetically engineered ingredients might incur.
The bottom line is that it's never too late to change. From Kashi cereal to Cheerios, the fate of the food companies does not need to be tied to the chemical and pesticide companies. Food companies have the opportunity to pivot, to win the allegiance of customers and to go from zero to hero overnight if they are willing to focus on progress not perfection.
And If "pink slime" is any indication of what consumer sentiment can do to an industry seemingly overnight, the food industry executives might want to consider their fiduciary duty to manage risk, reduce liability and build out a supply chain that contains non genetically engineered ingredients in order to meet this growing consumer demand.
Imagine the campaign: "Around the country, from California to DC, millions of Americans are asking for the labeling of genetically engineered ingredients. We hear you. But rather than label these ingredients, we are going to take it a step further and make our products without them, the way we do in other countries, but we need your help. Together, let's redesign the American food system."
In the words of George Eliot: "It's never too late to become what you might have been."
To learn more, please visit www.justlabelit.org and www.labelgmos.org.