by Marion Nestle
Apr 27 2015

Chipotle goes GMO-free: a brief comment

Chipotle’s announcement that it will only be sourcing GMO-free ingredients is eliciting much press (see the article in the New York Times, for example).

Here’s what I’m telling reporters:

No, this is not a safety issue.  GMO corn ingredients were not making Chipotle customers sick.

Yes, this is a matter of trust.  Chipotle customers are offended that GMO foods are not labeled and that they have no choice about whether to eat them.

The GM industry has fought labeling since 1994 when the FDA first approved GM foods for production.  Even then, there was plenty of evidence that the public wanted these foods labeled.  But the industry is still pouring million of dollars into fighting labeling initiatives.

This—and the rise in sales of organic foods—are a direct result of the industry’s own actions.

  • Karl Haro von Mogel

    It is also not true about Chipotle actually going GMO-free. See this Storify of what they are actually selling, and its impacts:
    Where’s the trust there?

  • Bonnie Modugno, MS, RD

    While many scientists maintain genetically modified foods are safe, others don’t. But the bigger issue may be that the vast majority of cropland dedicated to GMO crops is intrinsically linked to ever rising quantities of herbicides/pesticides and now stacked products to address ever increasing resistant weeds.

    Glyphosate directly impacts microbes in the soil, the plant, and likely our gut. Too little research addresses this question. Maybe Chipotle and countless other consumers are merely putting the precautionary principle into play for themselves.

  • Alejandro Rojas

    Being true to facts, what percentage of scientists maintain that GMO’s are not safe?

  • Alejandro Rojas

    I guess you didn’t really know what they were using instead right?

  • FosterBoondoggle

    The sunflowers that are the source of the replacement “non-GMO” oil are also herbicide resistant. The herbicide (imazamox) used on them is also an inhibitor of enzymes that permit the plant to produce amino acids (different ones than for glyphosate), and that exist in bacteria as well as plants. (Per the mem_somerville link above.)

    Can you please explain to me why we should be sanguine about oil from imazamox-tolerant sunflower seeds and freaked out about oil from glyphosate-tolerant rapeseed. Can you suggest what extensive research you have seen that tells you the sunflower oil is safe and the precautionary principle has been satisfied?

  • FosterBoondoggle

    “Chipotle customers are offended…”

    This is utter nonsense. They’re not “offended” about anything. Chipotle customers include many people who are susceptible to all the latest and greatest food fads and to fear mongering about the poisoning and impurifying of their precious bodily fluids. So Chipotle, like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Ben and Jerry’s, Stonyfield, and other upscale food purveyors see a marketing opportunity.

    Personally I don’t care, any more than I care about people going gluten free or on the paleo diet, or whatever Gwyneth is promoting this week. Whatever floats your boat. I do care though about the endless promotion of pseudoscience, including by respected people like Marion Nestle adding their weight to peddlers of fear, such as this:

  • skegs1

    That article is from over a year ago.

  • Novagene

    It should be worth mentioning that mandatory GE labeling bills have not covered restaurants. This is also yet another demonstration why we don’t need mandatory labels. Consumers have ways to eschew GE derived products in supermarkets right now (Non-GMO Project Verified, USDA Organic, Fair Trade, etc.) and even have choices with establishments like Chipotle. Meaningless choice, but no legislation required creating it.

    Nestle said,

    No, this is not a safety issue.

    Not according to Chipotle,

    The manufacturers of GMO seeds claim that GMOs are widely considered to be safe, but we don’t believe the scientific community has reached a consensus on the long-term implications of widespread GMO cultivation and consumption. For example, in October 2013 a group of about 300 scientists from around the world signed a statement rejecting the claim that there is a scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs for human consumption.

    300 scientists deny GE safety consensus? Well, 215 scientists accept the biblical account of creation. And 650 scientists deny climate science consensus.

    Nestle said,

    GMO corn ingredients were not making Chipotle customers sick.

    Goes without saying except that Chipotle is aligning its business with anti-GMO pseudoscience alleging that GMO corn very well might make customers sick.

    Nestle said,

    Yes, this is a matter of trust.

    Chipotle is a corporation with a gross income of 1 billion dollars in 2014 catering to pressure from a vocal minority of their consumer base after they disclosed which ingredients were GE in the first place. Consumers don’t trust long standing credentialed science organizations, but they trust a company forwarding pseudoscience so long as it’s wrapped up in a nice marketing campaign.

    Nestle said,

    Chipotle customers are offended

    Stephen Fry as quoted in the Guardian 2005,

    It’s now very common to hear people say, “I’m rather offended by that”, as if that gives them certain rights. It’s no more than a whine. It has no meaning, it has no purpose, it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. “I’m offended by that.” Well, so fucking what?

    I’d wager that the majority of Chipotle’s customers are not “offended” over what variety of corn is in the tortilla or what type of vegetable oil is used.

    Chipotle’s advertising is offensive though. It’s grossly deceptive, and as a cartoon replete with video game, it targets children. What were you saying about trust again?

    Chipotle’s announcement is a concerted marketing campaign, not just a press release to the media. They are advertising the removal of GMOs. As of April 27th, signage in their store reads:


    For the last 21 years we have been striving to make out ingredients better. Given that we don’t think genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are better, we have replaced them with non-GMO ingredients. Now all of our food is non-GMO

    It’s advertising non-GMO ingredients as “better.” The biotech industry should sue them since there is no factual basis for this claim especially if the substitutions already mentioned in the comments are accurate.

    Nestle said,

    and that they have no choice about whether to eat them.

    Nobody has ever been forced to eat in Chipotle or in any restaurant for that matter. More importantly, Chipotle already notified the public which ingredients were GMO. According to the <a href=" text“>NYTimes article you linked to:

    In 2013, Chipotle was the first restaurant chain to indicate which items contained genetically modified organisms

    Chipotle did disclose which ingredients were sourced from GE crops so consumers were absolutely informed. Isn’t your argument that identifying GE derived ingredients grants consumer choice? After identifying GE, now Chipotle has prohibited certain derived ingredients. A perfect example of how providing GE information to consumers results in removing them outright.

    We also have a shining example of the pseudoscience used in defending their decision, the type of misinformation that is never criticized on this blog in an attempt to maintain false balance. It’s biotech corporations versus the public, with little mention of where the public is getting its ideas. Oh, it’s not about safety! Sure, if we ignore 90% of anti-GMO information that people uncritically subscribe to.

    Also from the <a href=" text“>NYTimes:

    So Chipotle’s flour tortillas are now made with a non-G.M.O. canola oil, which costs more, and the company said last week that it might have to raise prices slightly this year.

    Chipotle identified GE a couple years ago. Now they prohibit GE in specific ingredients. Costs increased and may ultimately be passed to the consumer. That’s fine since it’s Chipotle’s decision and they are free to do it, but if passing GE label laws result in similar outcomes for other companies and consumers, raising food costs for everyone is specifically what was warned against when state label laws are being discussed. We can put disputed projections aside; Chipotle confirms the phenomenon.

    Nestle said,

    The GM industry has fought labeling since 1994

    “Fought?” That’s one way to put it I suppose. The same way Marion Nestle fights against vitamin D labeling. But I get it. Not all information is useful or needed, and it’s presense can misdirect concern, you won’t get an argument from me.

    Nestle said,

    Even then, there was plenty of evidence that the public wanted these foods labeled.

    There’s abundant poignant evidence that the public does not want mandatory GE labeling.

    Oregon Measure 27 (2002)
    Defeated by 886,806 votes against.

    Washington Initiative 522 (2013)
    Defeated by 730,968 votes against.

    California Proposition 37 (2012)
    Defeated by 6,442,371 votes against.

    Oregon Measure 92 (2014)
    Defeated by 753,574 votes against.

    Bemoan campaign spending all you want. Bottom line is that direct democratic vote decided the outcomes. Those millions of voters were not paid to vote as they did.

    Nestle said,

    But the industry is still pouring million of dollars into fighting labeling initiatives.

    As they should. GE ingredient discloser for Chipotle’s ultimately resulted in elimination and raised costs for the company.

    Mandatory GE labeling is baseless. You agree it’s not about safety or health. Chipotle disagrees; it is about safety and that’s what most anti-GMO consumer believe as well. Unfortunately it’s a campaign of paranoia based on pseudoscience directed at a perceived boogeyman. You have said that the issue is a “surrogate” for mostly unrelated concerns. Either way, capitulating to paranoia solves nothing.

    There are no good reasons for requiring consumer information identifying what type of breeding technique is used for crops. The food industry didn’t fight anything, FDA scientists agreed. We never labeled breeding techniques before, there was no reason to start in 1994, and there’s no good reason to start now. Even voters have agreed. Certain demographics have been confused and fearful about what genetic engineering is since 1994 and there are anti-GMO proponents driving that agenda further. With that said, there are plenty of (pointless, pseudoscientific) market choices for consumers.

    Nestle said,

    This—and the rise in sales of organic foods—are a direct result of the industry’s own actions.

    Irrelevant speculation. Also, inaccurate since there’s mandatory GE labeling in Europe and organic sales are strong and growing as well.

    Russia labeled GE crops. Now they are banned. Was that the fault of the industry’s own actions as well? That’s as preposterous as claiming that it’s homosexual’s fault that Russia recently passed laws against “gay propaganda.” Both are the results of unsubstantiated public fear.

  • Pingback: GMO lobbyists are poised for a big victory in DC – Quartz()

  • Pingback: Chipotle Goes GMO “Free” and Chooses the Path Less Traveled (By Fast Food Restaurants)…Again | On the Table()

  • Karl Haro von Mogel

    Still valid information.

  • dtr

    GMO is a silly issue. It’s so overly studied and the results are always the same. It’s not a real problem. And consumers are spending unnecessary billions avoiding them. You’re eating a 1500 calorie Chipotle burrito and the GMO vegetable is what you’re worried about?

    But I agree The FDA needs to consider mandatory labeling of GMOs. That’s the way the food culture is moving to and the industry needs to adapt to what people want. And maybe we can stop spending so much wasted time on this issue.

  • dtr

    But overwhelmingly scientists agree that it isn’t harmful to human health, to the point that this idealogical need that some advocates have to “prove” it’s dangerous, and against so much scientific evidence is almost on the level of climate change denial.

  • Bonnie Modugno, MS, RD

    I disagree. I’ve spoken to Monsanto representatives and communicated with their scientists. I was referred to a single study to address the role of microbes in the gut. I found it provocative that the provided abstract used very different language than the author’s conclusions. The microbiome issue is far from decided.

  • Leticia Oliva

    I would like to meet the scientists who agree to a conclusion that is not yet known.