What just happened to our Cheerios? I use "our" loosely, as I gave up -- read, "boycotted" -- Cheerios more than a year ago when I learned that General Mills, the maker of Cheerios, helped finance the campaign to block GMO labeling. Before we tackle the Cheerios story, let's clear up some info about GMOs.
GMO (genetically modified organism) is the term applied to crops with seeds (or products with genes) that have been genetically altered in biotech laboratories. With instruments of today's science, researchers can indeed insert a microscopic gene from one species into another. Genes, of course, are the molecular units of heredity, which act like a computer program in all living organisms.
In the 1970s, researchers learned how to splice genes, and soon they were busy transferring genetic material from one organism into another, resulting in a GMO, also referred to as GM (genetically modified) or GE (genetically engineered). The first commercially available product came in the mid 1990s with the Flavr Savr tomato, whose company was acquired by Monsanto, the leading producer of GM seeds. Now the majority of cash crops grown in the United States, including soybeans, corn, canola, and sugar beets, are genetically engineered.
Oats have not yet been hijacked by researchers. However, cornstarch and sugar (two other ingredients of Cheerios) can be sourced from either traditional non-GMO or genetically modified crops. General Mills just announced that its original Cheerios are now being made without the addition of GMO crops, giving consumers what they have long been asking for: non-GMO Cheerios.
See Wednesday's Times Sentinel for the full story.