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Food Labeling: Cheerios is a Drug & Genetically Engineered Food Labels

May 18, 2009

Popular Cereal Is a Drug, US Food Watchdog Says

WASHINGTON – Popular US breakfast cereal Cheerios is a drug, at least if the claims made on the label by its manufacturer General Mills are anything to go by, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said.[Boxes of Cheerios cereal are displayed on a shelf at a market in California. Popular US breakfast cereal Cheerios is a drug, at least if the claims made on the label by its manufacturer General Mills are anything to go by, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said. (AFP)]Boxes of Cheerios cereal are displayed on a shelf at a market in California. Popular US breakfast cereal Cheerios is a drug, at least if the claims made on the label by its manufacturer General Mills are anything to go by, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said. (AFP)

“Based on claims made on your product’s label, we have determined that your Cheerios Toasted Whole Grain Oat Cereal is promoted for conditions that cause it to be a drug,” the FDA said in a letter to General Mills which was posted on the federal agency’s website Tuesday.

Cheerios labels claim that eating the cereal can help lower bad cholesterol, a risk factor for coronary heart disease, by four percent in six weeks.

Citing a clinical study, the product labels also claim that eating two servings a day of Cheerios helps to reduce bad cholesterol when eaten as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, the FDA letter says.

Those claims indicate that Cheerios — said by General Mills to be the best-selling cereal in the United States — is intended to be used to lower cholesterol and prevent, lessen or treat the disease hypercholesterolemia, and to treat and prevent coronary heart disease.

“Because of these intended uses, the product is a drug,” the FDA concluded in its letter.

Not only that, but Cheerios is a new drug because it has not been “recognized as safe and effective for use in preventing or treating hypercholesterolemia or coronary heart disease,” the FDA said.

That means General Mills may not legally market Cheerios unless it applies for approval as a new drug or changes the way it labels the small, doughnut-shaped cereal, the FDA said.

General Mills defended the claims on Cheerios packaging, saying in a statement that Cheerios’ soluble fiber heart health claim has been FDA-approved for 12 years, and that its “lower your cholesterol four percent in six weeks” message has been featured on the box for more than two years.

The FDA’s quibble is not about whether Cheerios cereal is good for you but over “how the Cheerios cholesterol-lowering information is presented on the Cheerios package and website,” said General Mills.

“We look forward to discussing this with FDA and to reaching a resolution.”

Meanwhile, the FDA warned in its letter that if General Mills fails to “correct the violations” on its labels, boxes of Cheerios could disappear from supermarket and wholesaler shelves around the United States and the company could face legal action.

According to General Mills, one in eight boxes of cereal sold in the United States is a box of Cheerios. The cereal debuted on the US market in 1941.

© 2009 AFP



May 7, 2009


         The 37th Session of the Codex Committee on Food Labelling (CCFL) just today finished its work considering various food-labeling issues, including the most contentious one – the Labeling of Foods and Food Ingredients Obtained through Certain Techniques of Genetic Modification / Genetic Engineering. Meeting in Calgary, Canada this week, and with the Committee Report still to be prepared on Friday, the Committee sailed through most of its Agenda items with hardly a harsh word or divide – until it came to the GM labeling issue.

         The new Chairman, Mr. Paul Mayers, has replaced the former CCFL Chairwoman of many years, Dr. Anne MacKenzie, and has used his diplomacy and melodic voice to soothe the feelings of various delegations. Yet, the lines between the two camps were too entrenched for even his skills to resolve. As Agenda Item No. 6, the GM labeling issue arose for discussion near the end of this morning’s Wednesday session and, after a lunch break, continued on for nearly four hours of see-saw argument, often tinged with emotion and repeated requests for the floor.

         Once again, the food-exporting countries of Canada, the United States, Argentina, New Zealand, and Australia comprised the “consumer is too stupid to understand” camp that wishes to see the GM-food labeling disappear into a black hole. Driven completely by commercial concerns, the U.S. and its sidekicks argued that many years have seen a lack of consensus within the Committee, so the work on GM-food labeling should be discarded and the Committee should focus instead on the WHO Global Strategy, another CCFL concern. Of course, the lack of consensus was caused entirely by these countries’ delegations, especially the United States and Canada, blithely disregarding the clear-cut wishes of its own citizens for GM ingredients to be declared on food labels.

         In the other camp, arguing in favor of GM-food labeling so that the consumer can make an informed choice, were and are the European Union, Brazil, the African countries, Saint Lucia, and all of the International NonGovernmental Organizations (INGOs) representing consumers (such as the National Health Federation, Consumers International, Infant Baby Formula Action Network, the International Association of Consumer Food Organizations, and the 49th Parallel International Consortium). The only INGOs not supporting such labeling were two industry trade groups with clear interests in GM foods.

         The focus of the Committee swirled around existing language that would have leaned towards GM labeling, with an alternate that was meek in comparison. After it became clear that the Committee would not agree on the wording, Brazil directed CCFL to its written compromise proposal, which drew most countries support – except for the recalcitrant “the consumer is too stupid” camp.

         Incredibly, the United States argued in its written submission that labeling food as GM derived would be in violation of Codex Guidelines that state “foods shall not be described or presented in a manner that is false, misleading or deceptive, or is likely to create an erroneous impression regarding its character in any respect.” It offered its own version of the wording, which said, “This document is not intended to suggest or imply that GM/GE foods are in any way different from other foods simply due to their method of production.”

         Although this wording was strongly opposed by the pro-labeling camp and more preference was expressed for the Brazilian proposal, somehow the Chairman ditched the Brazilian proposal and allowed this specific U.S. wording to make its way into the document being reviewed. The Canadian delegation used this opportunity once again to encourage CCFL to discontinue its work on this matter, saying “Leave this to the free market.”

         The National Health Federation (NHF) hotly challenged this action. Taking the floor nine times during the course of the debate, the NHF’s delegate, Scott Tips, told the Committee during one such intervention that, “Consumers want this labeling of GM foods. Let’s be honest, the food exporting countries – mostly in the Western Hemisphere – want to push their own commercial interests by selling their GM crops. They know that they cannot sell these GM crops unless they keep consumers ignorant. Let the consumers make the choice in a free market, but give them the information so that they can decide. Canada has said ‘leave this to the free market’ and yet Health Canada has attacked those companies in Canada that try to sell products labeled ‘GM Free”! Our Canadian members are upset over this. In fact, there will be a consumer-led campaign to force the American and Canadian delegations to conform their positions to their citizens’ wishes. There will be consensus in the near future as a result.”


         The representative from the 49th Parallel INGO supported the NHF’s comments and added that, “If, as the United States has claimed, there is no difference between GM foods and non-GM foods, then why do companies rush to the Patent Office to patent their special GM foods?”

         With the Committee still considering the U.S.-slanted wording, though, the Chairman hatched the idea to discard all extra wording and add in two small words. The EC and the NHF spoke out against this idea, with the NHF particularly opposing it as a violation of the rules of the Codex Procedural Manual that require Recommendations and Guidelines to have a stated Purpose and Scope. This caused a stall in the proceedings as the Codex Secretariat and Chairman searched through the Manual and consulted with one another for a response. The Secretariat then took the floor to say that this would not be a hindrance. Nevertheless, the Chairman’s idea quickly lost steam and fizzled out.

         Yet, the Committee still worked on the U.S.-slanted wording, adding in various words and phrases with much discussion. Just before the afternoon break, the NHF delegate challenged the Committee to discard that wording and return to the original wording or at least the Brazilian proposal favored by more delegations. During the break, the NHF delegate discussed with various delegations NHF’s disappointment with the trend towards accepting this GM-friendly language.

         When the Committee reconvened, Ireland proposed wording saying “Any information or pictorial device may be displayed in GM/GE labeling provided that it is not in conflict with Codex requirements on labeling nor would mislead or deceive the consumer in any way whatsoever in respect of the labeling of foods derived from GM/GE.” This position was supported by the European Community.

         Both Canada and Argentina opposed this wording, with Argentina pointing out that foods labeled under Codex Guidelines already were forbidden from misleading or deceiving the consumer. The NHF leaped upon this comment to get the Committee to agree to delete the last part of the Irish proposal beginning with “nor would mislead or deceive . . . .” NHF argued that some delegations, such as the United States, already felt that GM labeling was inherently misleading, as evidenced by the U.S.’s own written comments. (See sixth paragraph of this release, above.) This deletion was challenged later by some delegations such as the United States, but the Chairman upheld the deletion.

         After even further discussion, though, the Chairman launched a missile into the meeting when he ab initio proposed that since there was no consensus on the wording, the Committee take a pause of three sessions (i.e., three years) to consider alternatives and then resume discussing the matter in three-years’ time. The delegations of Austria and Saint Lucia immediately challenged this idea, but it seemed as if it might take hold, with the Canadian delegate gushingly stating, “You are so wise to do this.”

         Fortunately, firm and well-stated opposition by member-country delegations such as Kenya, Denmark, and the European Community caused the Chairman to drop his suggestion. (The Chairman could not even get to the NHF’s and other INGOs’ opposition given the strong country-member response.) So, despite last-minute efforts by the United States and New Zealand to revive the “pause” idea, it died a quick death, although its suggestion by the Chairman held the Committee in suspense for what seemed like a long time.

         In the end, the Chairman stated that the work on this matter was important and must be continued. He returned this Draft Recommendation on GM-food labeling back to Step 3 for further comments and discussions at next year’s CCFL meeting, which is to be held in Quebec City, Canada on a date to be determined.


For further information on Codex, please visit the NHF website (Codex):

NHF Codex Book   – 
NHF Codex Overview (May be used as an article or printed as a handout to educate on Codex) – 


As the oldest and best-respected health-freedom group on Capitol Hill, the NHF continues to be the credible source of objective assessment of, and proactive actions on, Congressional legislation and FDA matters that have material impact upon our freedom-of-health choices and access to dietary supplements and nutritional foods.


Click here for the permanent link to this press release, use this link to inform others.

National Health Federation: Established in 1955, the National Health Federation is a consumer-education, health-freedom organization working to protect individuals’ rights to choose to consume healthy food, take supplements and use alternative therapies without unnecessary government restrictions. The NHF is the only such organization with recognized observer-delegate status at Codex meetings.

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