If you have an online social sphere anything like mine, you’ve seen this graphic floating around for several days. People are using it to promote the idea that GMO foods are much more healthful than non-GMO foods. There’s just one little problem with it. It’s missing an important piece of information. Without that information, it supports the arguments people are making with it. With that information in hand, it doesn’t.
What changed when Grape Nuts removed GMOs?
32 oz went down to 29 oz
Vitamin A: 15% went down to 0%
Riboflavin: 25% went down to 4%
You are paying more and getting less. That’s not just NUTS, that’s Grape Nuts.
Vitamins B12 and D are also absent in the new formulation, though the meme doesn’t mention that.
My curiosity about the image was piqued when I saw someone comment that the old nutrition numbers matched the numbers for Grape Nuts Vintage. Yes, you can now buy “vintage” cereal, if your world isn’t hipster enough. (Okay, if I wanted my mouth to be lacerated, Grape Nuts Vintage is probably how I’d go. The new version contains soy, and I try to limit the amount of soy in my diet for hormonal reasons.)
Sure enough, when I went to the Post website, I found that the Vintage cereal contains all the same percentages of your daily allowance of everything but protein (that’s the soy) as the pre-GMO-removal Grape Nuts in the meme. The merely “classic” Grape Nuts also matched the post-GMO-removal image. However, that didn’t necessarily mean the meme is wrong. Vintage might simply still contain GMO products.
So I went to the Wayback Machine. (This post is getting more retro by the second. Someone break out the bobby socks.) There I managed to confirm that the graphic does accurately represent the pre-GMO-removal Grape Nuts nutritional information.
So what’s the problem?
Well, I got curious whether the Vintage was just the old “classic” with new packaging, so I compared the ingredients list. Nope, still soy in the old “classic”. Hey, look, Malted Barley Flour. That’s how they sneak the sugar into Grape Nuts!
Then I got to the added vitamins and minerals. Bingo!
Old “classic” Grape Nuts are fortified with “Reduced Iron, Niacinamide, Zinc Oxide (Source Of Zinc), Vitamin B6, Vitamin A Palmitate, Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Thiamin Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Folic Acid, Vitamin B12, Vitamin D.”
New “classic” Grape Nuts are fortified with “Reduced Iron, Niacinamide, Zinc Oxide (Source Of Zinc), Vitamin B6, Thiamin Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Folic Acid.” In other words, the new “classic” doesn’t have added Vitamin A Palmitate, Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12, or Vitamin D.
The nutrition difference in the two cereals isn’t there because the non-GMO grains used are so much less healthy than their GMO counterparts. The nutrition difference occurred because Post wasn’t able to find a supplement supplier they liked who was willing to certify their supplements to be GMO-free. That could mean the only way to create these supplements is with GMOs, but it probably doesn’t. We’ve been doing supplementation longer than we’ve had the tools to directly modify these organisms. It’s much more likely that it means that supplements created without GMOs are enough more expensive that they can’t compete with GMO-created supplements.
Supplements, of course, are a whole other ball of wax. Most of us who aren’t vegans simply don’t need supplementation in the vitamins that were removed and probably shouldn’t supplement some of them, like A, except on the advice of a doctor. This is particularly true for those who are already diet-conscious enough to subject their mouths to Grape Nuts. The evidence has been trending this way for the last decade or so. Even Post’s Vintage Grape Nuts is no longer supplemented with B2 or B12.
While I agree that we need to fight both misinformation and fear-mongering about GMOs, including the GMO bacteria that create many of the vitamins used for supplementation, this meme doesn’t represent the facts any better. That may be because the author of the meme didn’t understand that the vitamins and minerals listed are supplements. Many people don’t. Maybe the author unconsciously connected the lack of Vitamin A supplementation to those extra-healthy grains meant for areas of the world with serious deficiencies and didn’t check carefully enough. Or maybe the author knew all this, but didn’t understand how the meme would be used.
I don’t know why this happened, but I do know that if we want to win a fight against ignorance, we have to be more careful than this. We’ve got to look at our own memes with the same skepticism we would theirs. Does that mean you have to do what I did and track down the information in internet archives?
Well, no. But I would suggest not passing on an “informational” meme that doesn’t at least have a URL on it where the author shows their work and their sources. I’d also suggest giving those sources a good critical look yourself before you share them, but if we stop passing them on without more information to back them up, that will be a good start.
Update: See Karl Haro von Mogel’s comment below. The meme will be updated for clarity and to point to a URL with more information. Share it when you see it here!