The Big G Stands for GMO’s: The Social Media Strategy that Lead to GMO-Free Cheerios

In 2012, General Mills developed a social media campaign encouraging consumers to visit their Facebook page and share “What Cheerios Means to You.”  They even designed a special app so users could turn any phrase into the cereal’s iconic font and yellow background, with the signature Cheerio dotting every “I.”


Unfortunately for General Mills, the campaign generated exactly the opposite of the “feel-good” messages the company was hoping for.  In response to General Mills $1.1 million contribution to the anti-Proposition 37 campaign to label GMO’s in California, consumers covered the Facebook page with anti-GMO messages such as “GMO’s, No Thanks”, “Deception”, and even “Poison.”


Of course, General Mills wasted no time in removing the app, but the damage had been done.  Thanks in part to the GMOInside, a coalition demanding a non-GMO food supply, the Facebook comments continued, even after the app was removed and the campaign ended.  But what happened next, turned out to be the biggest surprise of all.

Despite General Mills stance that GMO’s are perfectly safe, and their lobbying efforts against state level GMO labeling initiatives, the company apparently still took this consumer backlash to heart.  On January 2nd, General Mills announced that original Cheerios had been reformulated to be GMO-free.

The predominant ingredient in Cheerios was never in question, as there are no genetically modified oats, however, the sugar and cornstarch used in the product were assumed to be made from genetically modified crops.  The company now claims that they were able to source both ingredients without the use of GMO’s and will be labeling the product as such very soon.  Though we can’t be certain that the Facebook ambush is the only reason for the change, General Mills openly admitted that their decision stemmed from consumer demand.

Pressuring change from food companies via social media is a relatively new tactic, but it seems to be working quite well.  An article released in the New York Times last month described the many ways consumers are using social media to convince companies to reconsider ingredients, change the processing of their products, and alter their food labels.  Never before have consumers had such easy access to the top dogs of major food corporations, and several companies are actually starting to take note of the criticism.

Consumers still have a lot of questions for General Mills after their announcement.  If the company really cares, why aren’t the other Cheerios varieties being reformulated?  Better yet, why not make all General Mills cereals GMO-free? Will a third-party be confirming that the product is completely non-GMO before the labels start to appear?  If General Mills believes that consumers want GMO-free products, and are willing to make the necessary steps to create them, why are they fighting so hard to keep these products from being labeled?

If this first step, which even General Mills admitted didn’t take much effort, helps the company acquire new customers and increase profits, there is no question that the company will address these questions to meet consumer demand.  Social media sure is proving itself as an important tactic in the game of food reform.

Six Ingredients You Didn’t Know Were in Your Beer


While ingredient labeling on food and non-alcoholic beverages is required by the Food and Drug Administration, labeling for alcoholic beverages is actually controlled by the Department of Treasury.   Why?  Well, after the end of prohibition, Congress recognized the tax potential of alcoholic beverages and assigned the role of regulating alcohol, including its labels, to the Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).

Beer manufacturers might list a few ingredients on the label or post them on their website, but thanks to the TTB, disclosing the information is completely voluntary.  And if the alcohol industries lobbying dollars are any indication, most big name brewers would much rather leave consumers in the dark about what is in their products.  Typical beer ingredients include water, barley, yeast and hops, but some of the mass market brewers have started swapping these simple ingredients out for cheaper options or adding other strange ingredients which they claim will improve the quality.

Here are six ingredients that might surprise you!

1.  High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)


As a cheap alternative to sugar, food companies have been switching to HFCS for everything from soda to bread.  So it is no surprise that beer manufacturers have followed suit.  But HFCS is not the same as sugar.  It contains a higher level of fructose, which goes straight to the liver to be metabolized.  This disturbs glucose metabolism and can lead to metabolic disturbances that underlie the induction of fatty liver and insulin resistance (a hallmark of type 2 diabetes).

Where you’ll find it: Guinness

2. Fish Bladder


Attention vegans! Isinglass, a gelatin-like substance produced from the swim bladder of fish, is often used by companies to remove the haziness or yeast byproducts from beer.  But you won’t find companies talking about it. Guinness, a known user of isinglass, only lists “malted barley, hops, yeast and water” as the “key ingredients” on their website.

Where you’ll find it: Murphy’s, Guinness, and other mass produced stouts

3.  Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s)


Some companies claim that corn syrup gives their beer a milder or lighter flavor (is that a good thing?), but the fact is, corn syrup is just a cheaper starch.  Further, in America, corn syrup is generally made from a mix of conventionally grown and biotech varieties, meaning GMO’s are pretty much a guarantee.  GMO’s have not been tested long term on human beings, and pesticides sprayed on GMO’s have been linked with cancer and other diseases.

Where you’ll find it: Miller, Coors, Corona, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Fosters, and Red Stripe

4. Frankenhops


The reason beer can get ‘skunked’ is due to a reaction between the hops in beer and sunlight. So how are companies able to use clear bottles? The answer is simple.  They don’t use real hops. Thanks to the miracles of modern science, a synthetic chemical has been developed which mimics hop flavor, but is not impacted by  the sun.  The chemical known as Tetrahydro Isomerized Hop Extract (or Frankenhops as I’m calling it) cannot be found in nature.  It also has no aroma, which is unfortunate for those that enjoy the floral fragrance that comes from real hops.

Where you’ll find it: Miller, Newcastle

5.  Caramel Coloring


Toasted barley is usually what gives beer its golden or deep brown color, but beer manufacturers have taken notes from the soda companies and started adding caramel coloring instead.  Caramel coloring is manufactured by heating ammonia and sulfites under high pressure, which creates carcinogenic compounds. In fact this coloring has been proven to lead to liver, lung and thyroid tumors in mice.

Where you’ll find it: Newcastle

6. Propelyne Glycol


Propylene glycol is an alcohol produced by the fermentation of yeast and carbohydrates.  For beer, this ingredient is added to help stabilize the head of foam, but propylene glycol is also an active ingredient in engine coolants and anti-freeze.  Sound toxic? It is.  But, according to the FDA, propelyne glycol is only toxic to humans if consumed in very high doses, which would be nearly impossible to ingest through the amounts found in foods or beverages.

Where you’ll find it: Corona

Want to avoid these ingredients without giving up beer completely?  Choose German beers.  Ever since the German Purity Law of 1516, beers in Germany can only be legally produced using the core ingredients of water, hops, yeast, malted barley or wheat.    German brewers aren’t even allowed to use sugar or other grains such as corn or rice.  Smaller craft and micro- brewers are also a safer bet, though most come with a premium price.  If you really want to know what is in your beer, try contacting the company directly.  If they won’t tell you what is in it, it might just mean they have something to hide.