Chipotle announced this week that they have eliminated the use of all genetically modified ingredients from their restaurants. This change makes the company the first major restaurant chain to switch to sourcing food from GMO-free farms, just as it was the first chain to label genetically altered ingredients on menus in 2013. The effort is impressive considering over 90 percent of corn and soy in the United States has been genetically altered, but removing these ingredients ignores extensive research supporting human consumption of GMOs and rein- forces false speculation about the dangers of these products.
There is no evidence that GMOs are harmful to human health. The development and sale of these foods is well monitored by the Food and Drug Administration, and they are tested for health risks before making it to the market. The research that associates health risks with GMOs often lacks credibility, as with one high-profile study that initially suggested genetically modified corn caused cancer in rats, which was retracted due to study design flaws. There are, meanwhile, “hundreds of studies” that find no health risks associated with GMOs. On the positive side, GMOs can help reduce the application of toxic insecticides and increase crop yields. In some areas, these crops have pro- moted erosion-reducing low-till or no-till farming. There are issues with GMO patents and environmental ethics, but this is not how Chipotle has framed its menu alteration. Instead, the company has chosen to use largely disproven health concerns to justify their initiative.
Comments made by co-CEO Steve Ells in support of the ini- tiative reflect that the company’s largest motive in making this change is to appease those that have been convinced by scare tactics. Ells’ statement “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” incorrectly associates and equates GMOs with legitimately unhealthy food. In another interview, Ells said “they say these ingredients are safe, but I think we all know we’d rather have food that doesn’t contain them.” This type of reasoning completely disregards the legitimacy of the science on GMOs in favor of hopping on a trend of mischaracterizing the historically prevalent process of artificial selection by humans.
Whatever the reason Chipotle gives for the move, their de- cision unfortunately validates anti-GMO fervor. The New York Times reported that the company may have to raise prices in response to the move, and so it remains to be seen if customers wary of GMO foods will stomach the higher price. It would have been better if Chipotle made such broad decisions based on things like science and evidence, especially considering the rampant misinformation surrounding GMOs.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, April 28 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board at [email protected]