For some moms, breakfast is about to get a whole lot less scary. General Mills announced that it has stopped using GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in Cheerios cereal. In a blog post Thursday, they said they have already started phasing out GM cornstarch and sugar, and that the oats they use were never from GM seeds. Smaller food companies have gone GMO-free, but this is the biggest non-organic brand to say no to GMOs. It's an announcement that has food activists cheering and everyone else scratching their heads. What the heck are GMOs, anyway? Is this something moms need to worry about? Or is this just a bunch of hype?
Okay, for those of you who are wondering, here's the 101 on genetically modified foods. Humans have been breeding seeds for thousands of years. What makes GMOs different is that scientists are transferring genetic material from one organism into the genetic material of a completely unrelated organism. For example, inserting some salmon DNA into corn DNA. This gives the seeds certain advantages -- it could make the plants especially hardy or resistant to extra-strong weed killers.
Anyway, there's a HUGE debate raging over whether or not food grown from GMO seeds is safe. Since this is relatively new technology, we haven't yet seen the long-term effects of eating GMO foods. That makes a lot of people nervous. A few studies have shown that GMO foods could be harmful. They've been banned in some European countries, and the EU requires all GMO foods to be labeled. Yet the FDA has approved several GMO foods as safe and labeling is not required here.
There is a growing theory that a lot of our food allergies are a result of GMO foods. On the other hand, many others argue that if GMO foods were really that harmful, we would know with more certainty now. The research at this point is mixed, with evidence supporting both sides of the argument.
It's estimated that about 60 to 70 percent of processed foods on grocery store shelves contains at least one GM ingredient. Almost all of the soy and corn and much of the sugar grown in the U.S. is from GMO seeds. Foods labeled as organic cannot contain any GM ingredients.
But back to that earlier question -- are GMOs something we should be worried about feeding to our kids? Those little Os are almost every toddler's favorite food! Personally, I think it's something we should at least be paying attention to. It's one more reason to limit processed foods in our diet. I do try to avoid them as much as possible, but I'm also not super vigilant about avoiding them 100 percent of the time. What would help us as parents, though, is if foods containing GM ingredients were labeled as such (see Just Label It for more information). That way each of us could make our own informed choices.
What do you think about Cheerios phasing out GMOs from its cereal?
Image via Michael Himbeault/Flickr