GMO-Free Cereal Has a Vitamin Deficiency, Which Isn't So Bad

Do proponents of genetically modified foods have it right after all? Are GMO foods better for us and the world? 

On the surface, the news that the newly reformulated GMO-free original Cheerios from General Mills (NYSE: GIS  ) have less vitamins than the old variety would certainly suggest that. And Post Holdings' (NYSE: POST  ) new non-GMO Grape-Nuts have also eliminated a bunch of essential vitamins, seemingly going further to underscore that it's true. But looks can be deceiving, or at least not tell the whole story.

It is a fact that the new formulations do have fewer vitamins than those containing GMO ingredients. Industry site says the new GMO-free Cheerios are missing vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and vitamin B2 (riboflavin), while non-GMO Grape-Nuts are virtually devoid of riboflavin, with the vitamin falling from 25% of the daily value to 2%. But General Mills points out it never said going GMO-free was necessarily "more wholesome." And according to, neither General Mills nor Post would comment on "whether it has anything to do with the costs or challenges of going through the non-GMO Project verification process for the vitamins in question." 

Industry site Food Navigator points out that vitamins can be created during fermentation, while others, like vitamin E, get added when soy is used. The USDA says GM soy is so pervasive that 94% of all soybeans grown in the U.S. are now genetically modified. DuPont is the largest manufacturer of genetically modified seeds for soy, ahead of even Monsanto, and it is introducing a soy-based nugget ingredient that will allow nutrition-bar manufacturers to substitute it for more expensive dairy proteins while still providing 40% protein and 30% fiber. 

So, proponents will say that not only do genetically modified crops provide better yields, but the process is healthier for you, too. It's a win-win situation.


Not so fast. The crop yield debate is not quite as settled as GMO backers would have you believe, particularly as the latest research finds that, at best, what genetically altered crops can claim is that fluctuations in yield are not as volatile as with conventional crops, while certain traits such as being Roundup Ready -- crops resistant to the Monsanto herbicide that kills weeds -- and Bt (to combat corn root worm) actually cause lower yields. The better-yield argument also ignores the effects that overapplication of herbicides and insecticides are having in the creation of superweeds and superbugs resistant to the broad-spectrum killers.

As for your bowl of cereal being like a multivitamin, it's essentially an overblown issue. Yes, cereal makers add vitamins to their cereals before bagging them -- that's why they're called "fortified" cereals -- but you're likely getting all that you need from a regular healthy diet anyway. All those B vitamins the GM-based cereals give you are also found in oatmeal, lean meats, chicken, fish, dried beans, nuts, leafy greens, and bananas. Vitamin A can be found in red and orange fruits and vegetables like carrots and tomatoes, leafy greens, and broccoli. Vitamin C is found in citrus fruits, strawberries, red bell peppers, broccoli, potatoes, and cantaloupe. To think you need to eat a bowl of genetically modified Cheerios to get a big jump on your vitamin needs is a distraction at best.

Breakfast cereals as a category have been suffering from falling sales for some time, something General Mills has blamed on a lack of industry advertising and product innovation. That's debatable, and while I suspect it could be part of a broader shift in consumer tastes, it's coincidental if nothing else that the decline has come about just as awareness over GMO foods has grown. 

GMO-free cereals by themselves likely won't move the needle on sales, but it's the sort of product innovation General Mills has bemoaned as lacking that could at least stem the loss cereal makers are witnessing. It also goes to show that, once again, your mom was right, and you should eat your green vegetables.

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  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2014, at 2:20 PM, ardoucette wrote:

    Rich writes: The crop yield debate is not quite as settled as GMO backers would have you believe, particularly as the latest research finds that, at best, what genetically altered crops can claim is that fluctuations in yield are not as volatile as with conventional crops, while certain traits such as being Roundup Ready -- crops resistant to the Monsanto herbicide that kills weeds -- and Bt (to combat corn root worm) actually cause lower yields.

    Hilarious Rich.

    Why do you think that over 90% of our Corn, Soy and Canola are GMO then?

    The farmers pay MORE for the seed because they get a BETTER return.

    Articles like this, that make it seem like farmers don't understand basic economics, are really pathetic.

  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2014, at 2:22 PM, ardoucette wrote:

    What Rich is missing is that if "labeling" were passed, those vitamins would disappear from most pre-packaged food, and it is indeed the people who rely on pre-packaged food who NEED the added vitamins.

    If you prepare your food from meat, dairy and fresh produce, you don't, but then you aren't eating any GMO either.

  • Report this Comment On March 03, 2014, at 8:34 PM, Gom wrote:

    GMO has nothing to do with the vitamin content unless the BT toxin DNA is in the vitamin product they were using. In which case Cheerios should return to the non- GMO vitamins - "like what grandma ate" as there commercial ad campaign

    states. Clearly no research was done for the article. You are misinforming readers.

  • Report this Comment On March 04, 2014, at 7:13 AM, Gralin wrote:

    In December 2013, the U.N. Commission on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) released the results of a lengthy, in-depth study that blows a huge hole in one of Monsanto’s favorite claims, that we need GMOs to feed the world.. Small-scale organic farming is the only way to feed the world.

    But most important of all are the persistent problems with hunger, malnutrition, and access to food. Almost 1 billion people currently suffer from hunger, and another 1 billion are malnourished, the report notes, even though current global agricultural production already provides sufficient calories to feed a population of 12 to 14 billion. Some 70 per cent of the hungry or malnourished are themselves small-scale farmers or agricultural labourers, indicating that poverty and access to food are the most critical challenges.

    Monoculture and industrial farming methods are not providing sufficient affordable food where it is needed, the report says, while the environmental damage caused by this approach is mounting and is unsustainable. It says that the highest priority must be given to enabling the rural poor to become self-sufficient in food or to earn sufficient income through agriculture so that they can buy food.

    The report emphasizes that a shift is necessary towards diverse production patterns that reflect the “multi-functionality” of agriculture and enhance closed nutrient cycles. Moreover, as the environmental costs of industrial agriculture are largely not accounted for, governments should act to ensure that more food is grown where it is needed. It recommends adjusting trade rules to encourage “as much regionalized/localized food production as possible; as much traded food as necessary.”

    From the UNCTAD press release:

    "The past strategy of relying on international markets to meet staple food demand, while specializing in the production and export of “lucrative” cash crops, has recently failed to deliver its desired results, because it has relied on low staple food prices and no shortage of supply in international markets, conditions that have drastically changed since the turn of the century, the report notes. Also, globalization has encouraged high levels of specialization. This has resulted in an increasing scale of production of a smaller variety of crops, and has created enormous cost pressures, the report states. All this has aggravated the environmental crisis of agriculture and has reduced agricultural resilience."

  • Report this Comment On March 04, 2014, at 7:26 AM, Gralin wrote:

    So without taking into account the the nature of GMOs themselves, about which a lot of studies are just being released, the real issues to be looked at are land use and trade rules. The practice of dedicating massive amounts of land to monoculture practices is about to become a population bottleneck. I'd like to add more about recent findings in addition to the newer theories gaining traction about the use of, not glyphosate per se, but the ingredients included in the formula of Roundup, the detection of glyphosate in the blood of pregnant women, and the roles those chemicals play in metabolic pathways, but I'm not a doc and Iv'e used up enough space already. So I'l just point out the those ingredients, untested in the industry trials that included only Glyphosate and not the other additives (here's a hint- one of them is up to 10k times more toxic than glyphosate, others extend it's shelf life all the way into ingestion by consumers and livestock, and some promote proliferation of things like botox producing flora in the guts of cattle by suppressing natural gut flora) I'd encourage anyone to look those up on their own. The new ones from the last few months, that is. Journaled and peer reviewed.

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Rich Duprey

Rich has been a Fool since 1998 and writing for the site since 2004. After 20 years of patrolling the mean streets of suburbia, he hung up his badge and gun to take up a pen full time.

Having made the streets safe for Truth, Justice and Krispy Kreme donuts, he now patrols the markets looking for companies he can lock up as long-term holdings in a portfolio. So follow me on Facebook and Twitter for the most important industry news in retail and consumer products and other great stories.


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