In the last week of April, Chipotle Mexican Grill, with more than 1,800 locations, announced their ingredient lists will no longer contain Genetically Modified Ingredients (GMO). Note, this shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Since 2011, the restaurant chain has emphasized their “Food With Integrity campaigns and began identifying which foods contained GMOs in 2013.
Chipotle continues to cater to a select idealism of healthy food and has increasingly worked to set themselves and their food apart through a sizeable marketing budget. Spokespeople for the chain of restaurants continue to highlight the need for healthier food options, choosing to ignore their own menu boasting meals with an average calorie count over 1,000 – several closing in on 2,000 calories. When approached about that contradiction, Chipotle says it’s the consumers responsibility to reduce portion sizes. Yet it seems here, Chipotle has taken it upon themselves to make the decision about the availability of GMO ingredients.
I’m not against someone who chooses to eat organic or naturally produced foods, though I will not support these niche markets with my food dollars because I trust the scientifically proven safety of GMO foods. My issue is with the lack of integrity in marketing used by Chipotle, their misrepresentation and attacks on modern farming practices, and use of fear to portray other food options as inferior and unethical.
This Food With Integrity campaign has stirred up its share of debate and emotion over the years, which includes frustrations among the agriculture community which supplies Chipotle its own food products. In a separate blog entry, I have summarized Chipotle’s marketing campaign moves over the years with links to previous posts where I went into greater detail on the campaigns. Click here to read more.
Most major news and media outlets have taken notice of Chipotle’s announcement to serve only non-GMO ingredients – a few big exceptions include feed for animals which produce the meat found in Chipotle stores and soft drinks containing HFCS. Much of this news has not been positive for the restaurant chain, whose stock prices has steady fallen throughout April due to weaker than expected growth in recent quarters, partly due to their self-induced pork shortage and weaker sales growth in stores.
- New York Times, on Sunday, April 26, reported “Chipotle to Stop Using Genetically Altered Ingredients“. This move was largely already in play with the largest remaining obstacles being cooking oils and tortillas.
- Slate’s Moneybox Blog‘s report (April 27) summed up the move in “Chipotle Wants to Sell “Food With Integrity.” Dropping GMOs Is the Wrong Way to Do It.” “Chipotle may be taking the anti-everything-that-isn’t-natural craze a little too far.”
- Gizmodo held nothing back with their headline (April 27) “Chipotle’s Anti-GMO Stance Is Some Anti-Science Pandering Bullshit.” The report reminds us of the safety of GMOs, their importance as animal feed, and why Chipotle’s move is a lot about “publicity points.”
- Vox filed their report (April 27) saying “Chipotle will stop serving GMO foods — despite zero evidence they’re harmful to eat.” Vox summarizes that “Chipotle is responding to rising anti-GMO sentiment, which comes down to the “spread [of] overhyped nonsense.”
- A Wall Street Journal Opinion column (April 28) summarizes, “Common-Sense Free – You can now feel better about that 1,000-calorie burrito at Chipotle.” The article looks at the contradictions in marketing to millennials and states “Chipotle’s executives have excelled at using fashionable political messaging to make a profit.”
- Washington Post’s Wonkblog gives us (April 28) “7 of the biggest ‘facts’ about unhealthy food that actually aren’t true” that reminds us about the misconceptions about food surrounding us today.
- The Daily Beast filed their report (April 28) saying, “We’re Paranoid About GMO Foods Because of Pseudo-Science.” “They’re positioning themselves as the good guys, but they’re exploiting people’s lack of sophistication about these issues and perpetuating pseudoscience.”
- Even Mother Jones is questioning the move (April 28) in “Chipotle Says It’s Getting Rid of GMOs. Here’s the Problem.” MJ says “Chipotle’s announcement is little more than self-congratulatory PR, even if you think that GMOs are the devil.”
- The Washington Post Editorial Board chimed in (April 29) saying, “Chipotle’s GMO gimmick is hard to swallow“. WP interprets Chipotle’s move as saying “the anti-GMO lobby has scared people, and burritos can be sold by pandering to these fears.”
- Live Science brings up some good points (April 29) in their case for “What Chipotle’s ‘Ban’ on Genetically Modified Foods Really Means.” The removal of GMO’s is one thing, but the restaurant would be better off to focus on the poor nutritional content of their menu items – specifically sodium and fat.
- Los Angeles Times featured an Op-Ed (April 29) focusing on “Chipotle’s junk science on GMOs“. LA Times highlights the fact that “GMOs are not only safe for humans and the environment, but also contribute to global sustainability.”
- Bloomberg Health Editors (April 30) reported “Chipotle Bans Credibility“. Editors question the endgame of Food With Integrity, suggest Chipotle “has only capitulated to anti-GMO fervor” and reminds us of the progress made in food and cropping systems thanks to safety records of GMOs.
- Dan Charles of NPR writes (April 30) that the move contains little integrity in “Why We Can’t Take Chipotle’s GMO Announcement All That Seriously“. NPR gives five reasons why the move to remove GMOs is nothing more than part of a “global propaganda campaign.”
- TIME reports (April 30) “Why Chipotle Mexican Grill Going GMO-Free is Terrible News.” Aside from questioning Chipotle’s move and its contrast to the scientific support of GMO foods, TIME takes a look at business and price implications of serving only non-GMO.
- In a Reddit Skeptic thread (April 30), an email response from Chipotle seems to lay the blame on paid-science, the need for caution and claims to need further long-term research. (Because apparently decades of market availability and a trillion meals isn’t enough to prove safety.)
- The Chicago Tribune Editorial Board chimed in (April 30) to say, “Chipotle’s GMO message is muddled.” The desire to serve healthy food is admirable, but “Chipotle’s anti-GMO effort misses the chance to educate consumers about healthy food science.”
- Wall Street Journal shared this opinion piece (May 1) titled, “Chipotle vs. Science – Health-food advertising depends on the eagerness of the customer to be fooled.” “Chipotle’s health-food messaging isn’t about the food anyway; it’s about the customer and his sense of entitlement and moral vanity.”
There are still many, many more stories along the same lines of those listed above, a list likely to grow over the next few weeks. It is encouraging to seem many notable news outlets reporting on the event and calling Chipotle out for the misstep and contradictory nature of their marketing campaign, especially considering a menu that is no more healthy from a nutrition standpoint than most every other fast food restaurant.
Remember to visit the recap of Chipotle’s marketing campaigns and moves to serve Food With Integrity.