Is Chipotle Really 100 Percent GMO-Free?

Chipotle Mexican Grill, the fast food restaurant with something resembling a spine, made headlines this week when it announced it had completed the transition of its menu to “100 percent GMO-Free.”

It’s a massive undertaking, without question, but is it true?

According to Chipotle founder Steve Ells, the company made the move because there are so many public concerns over the safety of genetically modified ingredients. The chain was the first to call out which items on its menu did contain GMOs, and then proceeded over the next year or so, to replace those ingredients. Oils like canola and soy, which came from GMO crops, were replaced with sunflower and rice bran. Corn in the company’s tortillas were swapped out too. It’s a huge move, one that aligns with the company’s commitment in other areas, like sourcing local produce and nitrate-free meats. 

Read more about Chipotle calling McDonald's and Burger King 'Irrelevant'

Without GMO labeling requirements in the U.S., it’s difficult for brands to even identify which ingredients are genetically modified. Many go the opposite route—securing 100 percent certified organic or Non-GMO verified ingredients rather than trying to call out which items are GMO. Chipotle earned well-deserved praise for acknowledging the mutant corn in the room before ditching GMOs entirely. 

But here’s the problem: It’s not really totally GMO-free.

For one, the chain acknowledged that its still serving Coca-Cola fountain products, which contain genetically modified ingredients: sweetened Coca-Cola products contain high fructose corn syrup, which comes from GMO corn, and Diet Coke products contain aspartame, an artificial genetically modified sweetener. If it really wants to do Americans a solid, ditching sodas—GMO or not—is the smart choice. Research shows that added sugars greatly contribute to health issues like obesity and type 2 diabetes. And even artificial sweeteners in so-called “diet” sodas, may lead to weight gain.

Chipotle says it has plans to swap out the soda products, and we have no reason to believe they won’t. The chain does like to live up to bold proclamations. But if it’s so fond of flag-waving, shouldn’t it set a timeline for removing the GMOs in the animal products it serves? Or getting out of the meat business altogether?

While the company does have impressive welfare and quality commitments on the animal products served, they do not come from organically raised animals, which in most cases means the animals are fed genetically modified grains (alfalfa, soy and corn) somewhere along the production line…even sometimes if they’re promoted as being grass-fed, which some of the Chipotle animal products claim to be.

Much of the genetically modified corn and soy in the U.S. goes into livestock feed. But we don’t talk about the chicken or pig or cow in our burrito nearly as much as we talk about that smidge of GMO corn or canola in the tortilla. And we need to. Just like removing antibiotics from animal feed is a pertinent issue to human (and animal) health, so too is taking highly processed feed that heavily treated with pesticides and herbicides out of the animal supply chain. Studies have connected animal health issues to diets high in GMOs, and if there are known ill-effects to humans from herbicide exposure, why would animal health be any different?

Read more about McDonald's removing antibiotics from its chicken products

Chipotle has had ongoing struggled with its supply of animal products—most recently, pork carnitas have been off the menu (since last December) over quality issues with a supplier, and grass-fed beef was so hard to find in the U.S. that Chipotle came under fire for sourcing beef from Australia. Why isn’t the chain discussing GMOs in livestock feed the way it talks about nitrates or its commitment to be gestation crate-free? Or better yet, why not do away with animal products altogether and see if customers don’t just embrace a veggie burrito free from GMOs and everything else that makes eating animals unappetizing?

Find Jill on Twitter and Instagram

[Editor's Note: If you want to learn more about GMOs and how to avoid them, click here to sign up for Naturally Savvy’s Non-GMO Get Healthy Challenge.]

Image: StockMonkeys

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By Jill Ettinger| April 30, 2015
Categories:  Eat

About the Author

Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a freelance journalist and marketing specialist primarily focused on the organic and natural industries, she bridges her love for changing the food system with her lifelong passion for writing and connecting people in their shared values. You can connect with Jill on Twitter and Instagram.

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