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Feb 06 2014

About That Grape Nuts GMO Graphic (Update)

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┬ámuch 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.

Grape Nuts meme showing pictures of old and new packaging. Text provided in the post.

 

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!

16 comments

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  1. 1
    Al Dente

    I thought grape nuts was an STD.

  2. 2
    memsomerville

    It is precisely the point that the reformulation resulted in changes with unintended consequences. This is a point we’ve tried to make over and over during the labeling battles–and now we have that evidence.

    The composition is different, because of the need to claim GMO-free status. The nutrition is different, and decreased amounts of several vitamins have resulted.

    I think it conveys the point very effectively. But I have alerted the author of the graphic to come by and discuss it as well.

  3. 3
    Stephanie Zvan

    Not even sex could make me eat Grape Nuts. I value the structural integrity of my mouth.

  4. 4
    StanButtersAndKyle

    The claim isn’t that the GMO version is healthier, it’s that they cut the supplementation and the actual mass to account for the increased cost of going GMO-free. They’re cutting corners on the quality of their product and passing the costs to the consumers for ideological reasons.

  5. 5
    Stephanie Zvan

    memsomerville, have you tracked how it’s been presented, because what I’ve seen says the people sharing it are taking away a different point.

  6. 6
    Stephanie Zvan

    StanButtersAndKyle, can you quote me the part of the meme that says what you say it claims?

  7. 7
    Karl Haro von Mogel

    Hi I wanted to let you know that I am the author of this meme, and I thank you for critically analyzing it and confirming it from different sources. I threw it together on a whim (I think on Thursday or Friday last week) to illustrate two side-by-side cereal boxes that one of our blog readers found, showing the differences. I first published an image with the boxes in their original orientation, but people pointed out that it was oriented logically backwards (before on the right, after on the left), so I switched it. Then, I noticed that not only were two nutritional amounts changed, but two others were missing, so I released a third, more colorful one.

    On twitter, we were trying to figure out why there was this change, whether it had to do with a recipe change (different ingredients) or removing vitamins that came from sources that included GMO components, like a GMO-sourced oil used to carry an oil-solublle vitamin, for instance. We also considered that they made the change due to price. Post, the company that makes Grape Nuts sounded willing to answer questions, however, they then refused to do so by email.

    We noticed also that some people have been interpreting this to mean that the non-GMO crops are less nutritious than the GMO crops, but I wasn’t suggesting that or intending that interpretation. You are definitely right when you say that I didn’t know how the meme would be used. I think I know how I can fix the top line to avoid that misinterpretation.

    I just heard that a similar change may be true for the Cheerios switch, so I’ll be looking into that and writing these both up for clarification. And then I can put the URL on the meme this time!

    Image sources (click to subsequent page to see latest version of meme image):
    http://www.biofortified.org/community/forum/genetic-engineering-group3/politics-forum1/social-media-and-images-thread238.8/

  8. 8
    Skeptic Guy

    All the men says is that there are fewer supplements and less product in the box of GMO free Grape Nuts. I hadn’t shared the mem because i wasn’t sure that was right. But if they kept those supplements out because they couldn’t get GMO free versions of them and the box does, indeed, have less product, I guess I’m good to go.

  9. 9
    Stephanie Zvan

    Karl, thanks for stopping by. Not knowing how or where it will travel is the big problem with memes, isn’t it. I look forward to seeing the new one!

  10. 10
    Karl Haro von Mogel

    Oh, I also wanted to add that the presence of less product in the boxes at the same price point has now been observed by two different sources, 32 ounce boxes are now 29, and 24 ounce boxes are now 20.5.

  11. 11
    Anonymous Mark

    Two things:

    1. You’re ideas about soy are outdated and wrong:
    http://nutritionfacts.org/video/soy-hormones-male-infertility/

    2. Vegans don’t need to supplement, not if they are eating correctly (same as non-vegans). Supplements are a last resort and not very effective, you should be getting your vitamins and minerals directly from your food. The only real concern is B12 and that can easily be found in many common vegan foods such as nutritional yeast.
    http://nutritionfacts.org/2011/08/25/vegan-b12-deficiency-putting-it-into-perspective

    Please be careful not to spread misinformation. I appreciate that you are trying to promote critical thinking and unbiased, objective reasoning, otherwise why write this article, but don’t let your own preconceptions ironically undermine that goal.

  12. 12
    Stephanie Zvan

    While I appreciate the idea behind giving me information on male infertility and soy-based phytoestrogens, I don’t really have to worry about my sperm count. I do have to worry about cervical dysplasia and cancer, however. There’s very little research on the topic, but what there is suggests at least some phytoestrogens appear to promote the growth of dysplasias. So I’ll continue to limit my soy intake while that’s being sorted out, thanks. Having surgery once for that was quite enough.

    I would certainly agree with you that vegans don’t need to follow a diet that requires supplementation. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t, as the link you provide points out. Meat is remarkably nutritionally dense, as are milk and eggs, and people can follow junky omnivore diets that provide adequate nutrition through the inclusion of those. Getting rid of the animal proteins doesn’t necessarily mean adapting a more nutritious diet, though. People can still eat vegan junk food. If they do, they should probably supplement. Is it ideal? No, but whose diet is ideal?

  13. 13
    robertbaden

    I love Grape Nuts, but I can’t eat any cereal now, much less one so carbohydrate dense, GMO or non GMO. Or I’d have to take more GMO produced insulin.

  14. 14
    alanuk

    I don’t know anything about Grape Nuts but is there not a simple explanation for this?

    Once upon a time, vitamins and minerals were considered to be in short supply and therefore food products that claimed to contain them had a marketing advantage. Perhaps the advertising company working for Grape Nuts asked them to add a few vitamins for a new sales campaign.

    Nutrition had nothing to do with it.

  15. 15
    GregH

    Person who uploaded the original images here. The reason the ingredients are missing in the first pictures was simply that the whole side of the box didn’t fit. It never really occurred to me that anyone would mistake a sourcing issue for GMOs being more nutritious otherwise I would have made sure to upload ingredient pictures too. Since I don’t really follow whatever’s happening on Twitter that much I was unaware that was happening.

  16. 16
    Hershele Ostropoler

    “Malted barley flour” isn’t sneaking anything in; it is the source of maltose, the meaning of the “Grape” part of the product’s name.

    (Trying to think of a “falcon” joke, but I’ve got nothing.)

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