Chipotle Backs Off GMO-free Claim

Published May 14, 2015

Chipotle, the popular burrito restaurant chain, said in April it was going to stop offering its patrons genetically modified foods (GMO), pledging to no longer use modern biotechnology crops for any of its ingredients.

But the chain known for its “food with integrity” quickly had to back off from its promise to “remove the few GMOs in our food so that our customers who choose to avoid them can enjoy eating at Chipotle.”

The company issued the following disclaimer: “[I]t is important to note that most animal feed in the U.S. is genetically modified, which means that the meat and dairy served at Chipotle are likely to come from animals given at least some GMO feed.”

The disclaimer also stated, “Many of the beverages sold in our restaurants contain genetically modified ingredients, including those containing corn syrup, which is almost always made from GMO corn.”

GMOs Are Here to Stay

H. Sterling Burnett, a research fellow at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Health Care News, says it would be extraordinarily difficult for any company with as many restaurants as Chipotle to eliminate all GMO ingredients.

“They say that their meats are free of hormones, and they tout being a restaurant chain that uses only organic foods, but there’s not enough organic corn in the world to accomplish this promise,” Burnett said.

Chipotle, like many other companies making similar announcements, has come to recognize GMOs are here to stay and are nearly everywhere in modern agriculture, Burnett says.

“They made this big, splashy announcement,” said Burnett. “The press shows up and they say, ‘Oh, they’re using non-GMO corn. They really care about us.’ But the fact is Chipotle had to add a little asterisk at the bottom of its ad telling us Chipotle is not really GMO-free because its beef, chicken, and pork come from animals that are raised on farms, and that means they are probably fed GMO corn. And the same goes for the tortillas, cooking oils, etc., because there is a chance they’re also made from GMO corn.”

Burnett says the important thing is neither the ad nor the disclaimer, because GMO ingredients are perfectly safe.

Clotting Agent Needed

Chipotle announced it was going to eliminate GMO ingredients in its corn and cooking oils, but the big one that no one seems to talk about is the cheeses, says Greg Conko, executive director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

“Most cheeses, unless they are the soft, that are made in the United States are produced with a clotting agent called Chymosin, a genetically engineered protein that is made from genetically engineered yeast and bacteria,” Conko said. “You need the clotting agent to curdle the milk into cheese.”

Conko says most cheeses produced in the United States are made with Chymosin, as is probably 90 percent of all the cheese produced globally. “It’s now used in essentially all cheeses, unless it’s a real high-end, artisanal, dairy-type operation,” Conko said.

Chipotle has not made any announcement about getting rid of cheese produced with Chymosin.

Soda Sweeteners, Feed Overlooked

Conko says another ingredient Chipotle overlooked is soda sweeteners.

“Nearly all soft drinks in America now use high-fructose corn syrup, which is derived from commodity corn that contains GMOs,” Conko said.

Commodity corn is also fed to cows, pigs, and chickens, so it’s likely GMOs are in much of the meat Chipotle serves from animals fed commodity grain.

“Chipotle has been touting for a very long time its commitment to sustainability and its environmental practices,” Conko said. “I’ve seen signs in its stores for years that talk about how their meals come from animals that weren’t fed any antibiotics, so in a sense, this was the next logical step for them to take and pretend to be greener than thou. But it turns out that it’s really all for show.”

So why do it? Conko says the fast-food industry is responding to consumer shifts toward what are perceived to be healthier foods.

“This is kind of a way for companies in that industry to try and carve out a niche for themselves and make consumers feel better about eating a 1,000-calorie burrito,” Conko said.

Kowtowing to Fear-Mongers

The flight from GMOs by companies such as Chipotle, Panera Bread Company, and others is nothing more than kowtowing and pandering to overhyped fears, says Dr. Gilbert Ross, executive director of the American Council on Science and Health.

“They believe the public is afraid of biotechnology and GMO foods,” said Ross. “Instead of standing up for the science, since every scientific body in the world says GMO ingredients contain foods that are perfectly safe and that their potential for helping agriculture is real, and saving a lot of people from malnutrition and starvation … we now have these people saying [genetically engineered] food is ‘Frankenfood,’ and they’re scaring the public.”

This fear is being promoted by big organic companies that have a vast amount of money and very powerful friends, Ross says.

“They’re trying to scare the public away from GMOs and get GMOs labeled because they think the public will have to buy more organic, which is more expensive but confers no health benefit whatsoever,” Ross said.

“It makes no sense scientifically, medically, or by any other standard,” Ross said.

Kenneth Artz (iam[email protected]) is managing editor of Health Care News.