The jury is still out on whether GMO foods are safe to eat over the long term, or best avoided at all costs. The facts are peppered by opinion, with proponents arguing safety, necessity for meeting food production needs, and for the reduction of pesticides used by farmers. Whatever side you gravitate towards, if you’d rather not take the chance, you’re not alone. Grain-based cereals are one of the most notorious foods for utilizing GMO ingredients,
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about finding non-GMO cereal, non-GMO cereal brands, organic cereal brands, and more.
What Does GMO Mean Exactly?
GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism, they can be in plants, animals, or other organisms that are made in a laboratory by deliberately changing the genetic make-up of a plant or animal, to produce combinations of genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional cross-breeding. Basically, DNA from different species are merged to create traits not naturally found in that species such as plants that are weather tolerant or disease resistant. It sounds spooky, right? When you’re sitting down to your breakfast in the morning, you’re feeling good about those healthy grains you’ve chosen and the good things they’re going to do for your body. But wait a minute - if those grains are GMO there could be a whole new possibility to think abou?! The safety of regular consumption of GM goods and long-term effects on human health is unknown. Also environmental and ecosystem damages have been associated with pesticide and herbicide resistant GMO crops. If there are options, who would want to take the chance?
GMO Cereal FAQ’s
So what do we know about GMOs in our cereals? You may be surprised to know that genetically modified crops have become widespread in the United States. The vast majority, at least 90% of corn, soy, canola and sugar beet grown in the US have been genetically engineered. Other crops will be cross-pollinated with them.
Many breakfast cereals, including those marketed for children, contain GMO ingredients. Some cereals marketed as “natural” contain high levels of GMO ingredients. This was a key finding from a survey of natural cereal manufacturers conducted by The Organic and Non-GMO Report.
We are eating these cereals without necessarily choosing to. 92% of Americans believe consumers have the right to know what is in their food supply and that GMO foods should be labeled as such, according to a recent survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. So, if we care about this and want to make choices for ourselves, perhaps we need to choose cereal brands that are labeled as non-GMO cereal or GMO-free.
What is Non-GMO Cereal?
Grain produced by farmers may be GMO, Conventional or Non-GMO. We know that GMO seed has had traits added artificially to increase crops or resist pests, diseases, and weeds. Conventional crops do not necessarily have any GM traits added, but they still may not be free of them, (for instance by cross-pollination with parent plants) it’s just that no traits were added.
Non-GMO cereal crops have a higher level of purity which is achieved by seed-production and the way they are grown. The farmer is growing un-traited crops, taking care to keep them away from any GMOs while they are in the field, and harvesting and processing the grain to ensure 98% or better purity from GMOs.
Why Are There So Many Cereals with GMOs?
So, why then do so many of the cereals in our stores contain GMOs? Kellogg’s and General Mills are the top cereal companies in the US, but they openly justify the use of GMOs in their products. The Kellogg’s Open For Breakfast website states GMOs are “scientifically proven to be safe” and General Mills that “there has not been a single incident of harm to health or safety demonstrably linked to the use of GMOs anywhere in the world”.
To justify their use of GMOs they say that biotech seeds have been approved by global food agencies and widely used by farmers for more than 20 years. They point to the need for the improved yields offered by GMO crops to fight global hunger. As these crops need less water to grow and are more resilient to extreme weather events they are addressing the problems of climate change. Also, food waste from bruising and spoilage is lessened.
Some people may be happy to just take the big cereal manufacturers word for safety of their products, but if you’re on the fence and have concerns about long-term health effects shouldn’t you have the right to choose a brand without GMOs?
Is Organic Cereal Also Non-GMO?
If you’re eating Organic cereal brands you can be confident that your breakfast is also non-GMO. Choosing organic is one of the easiest ways to find GMO-free breakfast cereals.
The use of GMOs as crops or animal feeds is prohibited in all organic products. Any organic farm found to use GMOs may face a loss of certification and fines. There aren’t specific tolerance levels in USDA regulations and Organic Program policies, but only trace amounts would escape a violation and advice would be given on how to avoid them in the future.
Are Cheerios GMO-Free?
In 2014 General Mills announced that Original Cheerios cereal will no longer be made using GMOs.
This sounds great, but you have to remember that oats, rice, and wheat already have non-GMO versions approved for farmers in the US. So, breakfast cereals using these as a main ingredient will already be on the way to being GMO-free. The only grain Cheerios use is whole grain oats so the GMOs were coming in by other ingredients such as sugar and cornstarch.
General Mills have said that for varieties of Cheerios other than Original (in the yellow box), “widespread use of GM seed in crops such as corn, soy or beet sugar would make reliably moving to non-GMO ingredients difficult, if not impossible.”
So yes, Cheerios are a non-GMO cereal, but only Original Cheerios, none of the other 15+ varieties.
What Cereal Brands Are GMO-Free?
When you’re at the store and faced with a huge number of choices for breakfast cereal how can you make it easier to find GMO-free brands if that is what you are looking for? You don’t want to spend hours and it’s hard to spot the trusted non-GMO cereal brands, but with a little research and some help from us, there are actually many manufacturers who make GMO-free breakfast cereals. Keed reading!
The first brand you could look at is Kashi. Kashi is owned by Kellogg’s, they are not the small mostly organic and natural products company they once were. In 2012, Kashi began to have their products verified. Products with the Non-GMO Project verification seal must undergo rigorous testing of both raw materials and finished goods to ensure they meet the non-GMO compliance standards. Kashi now manufactures over 90 products that are GMO-free. You could look for the 7 Whole Flakes line of breakfast cereals, the Kashi GO range, Organic Promise and Organic Blueberry Clusters. There is also a Kashi By Kids range designed by a team of 12 – 17-year-olds to appeal to children and young people.
The Cereal School
The Cereal School makes many flavors of cereal, all free from corn and soy, with no sugar, and all GMO-free.
Cascadian Farms, owned by General Mills since 2000, makes a wide variety of breakfast cereals and granolas such as Ancient Grains Granola and Buzz Crunch Honey Almond Granola, all Organic and GMO-free.
Barbara’s Bakery is another popular company that sells a full line of Non-GMO Project certified cereal including Puffins, Morning Oat Crunch, Spoonfuls, Organic Honest Os, Squarefuls, Brown Rice Crisps, and Organic Corn Flakes.
Nature’s Path is an independent family-owned company, all of its over 150 products are certified organic and non-GMO. They include Superflakes, Mesa Sunrise and children’s cereals such as Choco Chimps as well as non-GMO oat cereal and hot cereal varieties.
Bear Naked Granolas and cereals are non-GMO and include Oatmeal Cookie Chunk Granola, Pumpkin Spice Granola, and White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Premium Granola.
Arrowhead Mills are committed to becoming fully GMO-free in all their products and their cereals such as Organic Rice and Shine, and Oat Bran Flakes are clearly labeled with the non-GMO project logo.
Post Consumer Brands
The third-largest cereal company in the United States, Post Consumer Brands, has a selection of certified non-GMO breakfast cereals. All five flavors of Great Grains plus Original Big, Spoonsize and Wheat’n Bran Shredded Wheat. Frosted Shredded Wheat is not GMO-free. Look out for the Non-GMO Project Verified seals to confirm authenticity
There are literally dozens of small labels producing GMO-free breakfast cereals, these are just some that you might see in your local store, but search online if you’re looking for a particular ingredient or flavor.
Are GMO-Free Cereals Also Healthy?
Non-GMO, GMO-free or Organic does not equate to healthy! Like most cereals, they are made from grains giving the same nutrition and fiber content, but they can still contain added sugars, colors, flavors etc. that really don’t qualify them as “healthy”. On the other hand, organic cereals haven’t been exposed to pesticides and some brands are lower in sugar. Some questions have arisen in the past about added vitamins being removed when a cereal becomes non-GMO certified. There was concern that B-vitamins such as Riboflavin and B12 may have been made using genetically manufactured microbes or mixed with cornstarch to make them easier to handle. There was speculation a few years ago that this may be why Post’s Grape Nuts were only non-GMO for a short time.
What Cereal Brands Contain GMO?
Well as you’d expect given that the main attraction of GMOs is increased production, it is the largest brands that are most likely to have cereals containing genetically modified ingredients. According to the Center for Food Safety, up to 85% of the corn grown in the United States is GM. This means corn cereals that are not organic are very likely to contain GMO corn.
The exact nature and extent of any GMOs is a mystery as manufacturers aren’t required to label their refined products as such. The major breakfast cereal producing companies in the US are Kellogg’s, General Mills, Post, Quaker (now owned by PepsiCo), TreeHouse Foods and The Jordans and Ryvita Company. Most of Kellogg’s organic and non-GMO verified products reside under the Kashi brand. General Mills are not producing much GMO-free as we mentioned above with their Cheerios. If you choose to avoid GMOs, steer clear of Cocoa Puffs, Corn Chex, Honey Nut Chex, Kix and all Cheerios except the non-GMO Original.
Post brands that may contain GMOs include some Shredded Wheat varieties, Oh’s, Raisin Bran, Grape Nuts and Grape Nuts Flakes.
Quaker oat products that are organic do not contain GMOs, but their other cold Cereals including Oatmeal Squares, Life Cereal, Real Medleys Granola and Multigrain Flakes are suspect.
All brands available from The Jordans and Ryvita Company, I’m happy to say, are GMO-free.
To review, both GMO and non-GMO crops are grown in the USA and just because something is non-GMO or not it doesn’t necessarily mean it is healthier. Any ill health effects of GMOs are still not satisfactorily proven, so it is really up to you to make the choice of whether or not to eliminate GMO food products from your diet until findings are more conclusive. There are plenty of organic cereal brands and GMO-free cereal brands, should you choose to go that route.
Enjoy your GMO-free breakfast cereals!