The fast-food chain Chipotle claims to have stopped serving food with genetically modified ingredients.
“G-M-Over It,” boasts the company’s website. “When it comes to our food, genetically modified ingredients don’t make the cut. … We are the first [national restaurant] to cook only with non-GMO ingredients.”
Except that this isn’t even close to true. Chipotle depends on GMOs—and a new lawsuit could make the chain pay dearly for its outrageous con job.
The plaintiff Colleen Gallagher of California charges Chipotle with lying about the makeup of its food. “A Chipotle meal was, and remains, the very definition of a GMO meal,” says her complaint.
She’s right about that—as anybody who examines Chipotle’s practices will discover. Shortly after Gallagher took her case to court, Alison Griswold of Slate commented on the lawsuit by stating “Chipotle had this coming.”
Its bogus claims deserve a powerful legal rebuke.
Chipotle’s own website reveals that its marketing slogan is nonsense. Yet in corners of its website that most consumers never will see, the company confesses that its meat comes from animals that were raised on diets of feed made from GMO crops and that its soft drinks depend on corn syrup, “which is almost always made from GMO corn.”
In other words, Chipotle’s meals are GMO-free, except when they aren’t, which is just about all of the time.
So much for “G-M-Over It.”
Why would a fast-food chain engage in such a hoax? The answer is money. At least that’s the implication of a recent study, which suggests that when consumers assume they’re eating “ethical food” they feel a sense of “moral satisfaction” and this allows them to enjoy “enhanced taste.”
In other words, when people think they’re eating in a socially responsible way they trick themselves into believing that their food tastes better.
That’s what a team of European researchers reported this spring in Appetite, an international research journal.
“Buying or consuming food of ethical origin presents a readily available opportunity for people to attain moral satisfaction by supporting a cause they consider important,” write the authors. “The food then becomes not only a source of nutrition and gustatory enjoyment but also a physical artifact symbolizing the contribution.”
And so Chipotle hopes to cultivate the notion that eating its burritos and tacos represents an act of virtue—an act that consumers will choose to repeat again and again.
For this scheme to work, of course, Chipotle must launch a frontal assault on conventional food and the farmers who grow it by implying that GMOs are bad for human health and the environment—and that eating non-GMO food at Chipotle is a socially responsible alternative.
Unfortunately, this also requires a smear campaign: “We don’t believe the scientific community has reached a consensus on the long-term implications of widespread [GMO] cultivation and consumption,” trumpets the chain’s website.
But that is just not true!
Earlier this year, the Pew Research Center released the findings of a poll that asked scientists whether it’s “safe to eat genetically modified foods.” The result: 88 percent said yes. This overwhelming majority is the very definition of a consensus.
The problem is that much of the public holds a different view as only 37 percent of adults think GMOs are safe to eat.
Chipotle’s marketing scheme is clear: It lies about science, preys on public ignorance, and along the way tries to inject a phony sense of moral superiority into the minds of its customers. That requires Chipotle to condemn both mainstream biotechnology as well as farmers like me, who grow the GMOs that go into Chipotle’s food and drinks.
The worst part about this swindle is that GMOs are positively beneficial. These crops allow us to grow more food on less land, in an economically and environmentally sustainable way. They help us fight weeds, pests, and drought—and in the future, they’ll help us combat everything from allergies to malnutrition.
Supporting GMOs is in fact the socially responsible position.
Chipotle nevertheless has opted for deception and demonization. Now it will face the consequences of a truth-in-advertising lawsuit.
No matter how that turns out, it’s time to get G-M-Over Chipotle.
Tim Burrack raises corn, soybeans and pork on a NE Iowa family farm. He serves as Vice-Chairman and volunteers as a Board Member of Truth About Trade & Technology / Global Farmer Network (www.truthabouttrade.org).