Chipotles CEO Steve Ells has embarked on an apology tour: The fact that anyone has become ill eating at Chipotle is completely unacceptable to me and I am deeply sorry, he wrote in an open letter this week. (It ran as an ad in the Seattle Times, where I read it.)

This wasnt his restaurants first reaction to its latest food-safety fiasco. Earlier this month, after Chipotle sickened even more of its customers, it chose to declare war on the Centers for Disease Control rather than examine its own standards of health and cleanliness.

The CDCs reporting methods are unorthodox and unusual, complained Mark Crumpacker, a senior official at the company.

You know whats unorthodox and unusual? Serving food that has made scores of people sick, from coast to coast, all year longand then pointing a finger of blame at an agency whose offense apparently is to have investigated the extent of the harm.

My full sympathy goes out to the innocent victims who just wanted a decent meal at the Mexican-food chain. People who visit restaurants shouldnt have to worry about contamination. Imagine placing this order: Ill have a steak burrito with rice, beans, and cheesebut hold the E. coli!

At the same time, I cant help but think: This couldnt have happened to a more arrogant company.

Chipotle has made a habit of demonizing not only CDC officials who monitor food safety, but also American farmers like me who grow genetically modified crops.

Yet on its website, Chipotlewhich boasts of selling food with integrityspreads lies about GM foods. It seeks to stoke the fears of consumers for the sake of competitive advantage, claiming that scientists have not reached a consensus on the safety of GM crops or food made with GM ingredients. This is plainly false, as a recent Pew Research Center survey of members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science demonstrates.

Despite this, Chipotle continues to slander ordinary farmers who engage in conventional practices. Last year, the corporation even funded a smear campaign called Farmed and Dangerous, a series of satiric videos that aimed to mock mainstream U.S. agriculture.

Instead of bankrolling such guerilla-marketing propaganda, Chipotle should have devoted more of its resources to improving its own lax health standards.

Last summer, the chain spread norovirus and salmonella to more than 140 people in California and Minnesota. Then, in October and November, Chipotle infected more than 50 people with the E. coli bacteria in nine states, including 20 victims who were hospitalized. The company shuttered 43 stores in Oregon and Washington State.

Now comes the latest crisisa big norovirus outbreak in Boston, affecting scores of people, most of them students at Boston College. These young people probably just wanted a break from cafeteria food. Because they ate at Chipotle, however, theyre struggling with nausea, vomiting, and muscle pains at the very worst time of the semester, when term-paper deadlines arrive and final exams loom.

The good news is that food in the United States never has been safer to eat, due in large part to the concerted efforts of the people who handle food as it moves from farm to fork, as well as regulators at the CDC and elsewhere. When we spot a problem, its usually an isolated incident thats rapidly contained.

What we see at Chipotle, however, is a pattern of abuse. Last week, health officials temporarily closed a Chipotle restaurant in Seattle in an incident unrelated to the E. coli outbreak.

Rather than immediately acting with a full measure of humility, Chipotles Crumpacker chose to whine at a press conference about how the CDC discloses information to the public. He accused the CDC of releasing information in a way that makes problems appear worse than they really are.

Then co-CEO Monty Moran accused journalists of spreading fear. Because the media likes to write sensational headlines, well probably see when somebody sneezes that theyre going to say, Ah, its E. coli from Chipotle, for a little bit of time, he said. Thats unfortunate.

From Chipotles standpoint, everybody else is always at fault, from farmers like me who grow GM crops to CDC officials who try to police serial food-safety violators to reporters who convey the facts about the companys failures.

I dont know if Chipotle will recover from this disaster, but I do know this: It should start telling the complete truth about everything, from what happens on my farm to what happens inside its own restaurants.

Mark Wagoner is a third generation farmer in Walla Walla County, Washington where they raise alfalfa seed. Mark volunteers as a Board member for Truth About Trade & Technology / Global Farmer Network (

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