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Are non-genetically modified Cheerios any cheerier?

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On January 2, General Mills, the manufacturer of Cheerios, announced that the original version of the breakfast cereal not derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will soon be appearing on grocery shelves. The change does not apply to any other Cheerios flavors, such as Apple Cinnamon Cheerios or Multi Grain Cheerios. The decision to label the original Cheerios “Not Made With Genetically Modified Ingredients” appears to be related to a campaign initiated by the group Green America started a campaign asking General Mills to make Cheerios GMO-free. In a statement, the group noted that its campaign encouraged people to flood the Cheerios page on Facebook with comments on the topic. GMOs are currently the subject of intense debate; however, to date, no scientific studies have proven that GMOs pose any threat to human health. Thus, the question becomes: “Is General Mills actually producing a better version of the venerable breakfast cereal or bowing to public pressure in the hope of boosting sales?”

A GMO is created when a gene from one organism is purposely moved to improve or change another organism in a laboratory. There are different ways of transferring genetic material to produce desirable traits. For both plants and animals, a traditional method is through selective breeding. For example, a plant with a specific trait is chosen and bred to produce more that specific trait. Traits include, flavor, longer shelf life, and resistance to insect pests. In recent decade, with the advancement of technology, the process is taken to the laboratory where genetic material is injected into a plant to produce a desirable trait. The transfer of genetic material is done via a vector, which is usually a virus that enters the nucleus of a cell and delivers the genetic material.

Last September, researchers affiliated with the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Perugia (Perugia, Italy) and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Forestry Policies (Rome, Italy) published an overview of the last 10 years of genetically engineered crop safety research. The authors noted that the technology to produce genetically engineered GMOs began three decades ago and that one of the major achievements has been the development of genetically engineered crops. The stress that the safety of GMOs is crucial for their adoption and has been the object of intense scientific research; however, this research is often ignored in the public debate. The investigators reviewed the scientific literature on GMO safety during the last decade. Compiled a classified and manageable list of scientific papers, and investigated the distribution and composition of the published literature. They selected original research papers, reviews, relevant opinions, and reports that examined all the major issues that emerged in the debate on GMOs; their goal was to determine the scientific consensus that has matured since GMOs became widely cultivated throughout the planet. The authors found that, despite the fact that a heated debate is ongoing, the scientific research conducted to date has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of GMOs. They note that an improvement in the efficiency of scientific communication could have a significant impact on the future of GMOs.

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