GMO Update: Chobani, Cheerios and “Natural” GMOs

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WholeFoods Magazine Staff
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Several noteworthy events involving genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food have come down the pike recently.

First, Whole Foods Market made headlines by announcing its decision to drop leading Greek yogurt brand Chobani from its shelves, citing a quarrel over GMOs and product offerings. The chain said it will gradually remove the products throughout the early part of 2014. Chobani sources dairy from cows fed genetically modified grain, but does not announce the presence of GMOs on the label, contrary to Whole Foods Market’s recently adopted policy of requiring GMO labeling.

Whole Foods Market said its decision is also about a desire to provide organic Greek yogurt choices to customers (Chobani is not organic), as well as exclusive flavors. But some observed that the chain seems to be singling out Chobani, and the brand’s executives have shot back that the decision was not motivated by GMOs. The Washington Post suggested in an editorial that the move was made to clear out competition for the chain’s own 365 Everyday Value Greek Yogurt.

With activists calling for a change, General Mills decided that it will begin sourcing ingredients to produce a non-GMO version of original Cheerios. Flavored brands of Cheerios will continue to contain genetically modified agricultural ingredients. “It’s the unique and simple nature of original Cheerios that made this possible—and even that required significant investment over nearly a year,” the company said in a statement.

Broader news took place when a mainstream food industry coalition, headed by the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association (GMA), sent a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asking for it to establish a policy that foods containing GMOs can be labeled “natural.” This, of course, met with strong backlash from activist groups, with the Environmental Working Group’s senior vice president of government affairs, Scott Faber, saying in statement, “Consumers who buy foods labeled as ‘natural’ expect those foods to be free of genetically engineered ingredients as well as toxic pesticides, antibiotics and hormones. FDA’s definition of ‘natural’ is designed to ensure that no ‘artificial or synthetic’ ingredients have been added to the food product.” GMA also made waves with a request that FDA nullify any state-based GMO labeling laws.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, February 2014