Chipotle's recent ban on genetically modified ingredients is facing mounting criticism.
The move, which was initially praised, is being called "bad science" and "opportunistic."
Some are even pointing out that Chipotle sells soda with corn syrup from genetically modified corn.
Chipotle's GMO ban abuses the public's scientifically unfounded fear to sell burritos, according to a recent piece by the Chicago Tribune editorial board.
"Chipotle has embraced the fearmongering of some food, environmental, and health activists who have turned 'GMO' into a dirty word," the authors write.
The brand's GMO ban is also potentially misleading to customers, who may assume the company did it for health reasons, not for publicity's sake, according to Jesse Singal at New York Magazine.
"Most consumers aren’t going to carefully analyze the scientific consensus on a given issue — who has time for that? Rather, they use mental shortcuts, taking cues from people and institutions they trust," Singal writes. "Chipotle has developed a reputation for corporate responsibility and making careful decisions about the ingredients on its menu, and Chipotle ditched GMOs — therefore, GMOs must be bad."
Consumers have become increasingly wary of genetically modified food, believing consumption of it could lead to health problems such as food allergies and resistance to antibiotics.
That belief is not born out by the science, however. So far, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the European Commission all agree that GMO foods are safe to eat. A large scientific study from 2013 found no "significant hazards directly connected with the use of genetically engineered crops."
Still, Chipotle management has been openly critical of GMOs. It hasn't addressed the high-fructose corn syrup in its sodas.
"Just because food is served fast doesn't mean it has to be made with cheap raw ingredients, highly processed with preservatives and fillers and stabilizers and artificial colors and flavors," Chipotle founder and co-CEO Steve Ells told The New York Times in an announcement about its GMO ban.
Chipotle started their anti-GMO campaign two years ago, when they became the first restaurant chain to identify which menu items contained genetically modified organisms. Many other restaurants have followed suit.
Current Chipotle ingredients that contain GMOs are corn for tortillas and cooking oil.
Genetically modified ingredients are so common that it is almost impossible to eliminate them, especially when different batches of product get mixed together in the food pipeline.
"They lurk in baking powder, cornstarch, and a variety of ingredients used as preservatives, coloring agents, and added vitamins, as well as in commodities like canola and soy oils, corn meal, and sugar," The Times' Stephanie Strom writes. And there are other ways in which GMOs enter the food pipeline that Chipotle seems to be ignoring. Dan Charles at NPR points out that the brand's meat comes from animals that eat genetically modified food.
"It would be much harder, and presumably more expensive, to use only meat from pigs or chickens that consumed a non-GMO diet," Charles writes. "Finding a new supply of animal feed would raise costs, so Chipotle isn't doing it."
He also criticizes Chipotle food for its high levels of calories and sodium.
Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold shared more insight into the company's decision with Business Insider:
"Over the years, we have come to believe that the limited number of GMOs that were in our food were not making our food better or providing benefits to the farmers and other suppliers involved in producing our ingredients. We also found that switching to non-GMO alternatives in these cases was less expensive than initially predicted. We started this effort focused on the ingredients we use to make our food simply because that is where our ability to affect change is most immediate.
That said, we do believe there are valid concerns about the widespread production and consumption of GMOs. We have consulted with experts across the spectrum of views on GMOs, and arrived at our current position only after careful consideration of a wide array of available scientific research on this complicated topic. We found that anyone looking to support their own perspective on GMOs could find scientific research to substantiate that perspective, which is one of the reasons the debate on the topic has been so contentious. While some scientists—often with ties to the chemical, biotech, and seed industries—claim that there is a scientific consensus on GMOs, there are many who disagree."
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