Stay Fit and Healthy

Chipotle Starts Labeling GMO Ingredients

A substantial portion of the food produced in the U.S. is grown from genetically modified seeds. For example, more than 85% of corn and more than 90% of soybeans planted in the U.S. are genetically engineered varieties. There are two ways to eat GMO foods—you can eat them as ingredients in the food you buy, or you can eat meat or dairy products that come from animals fed genetically modified grains. Unfortunately, due to the pervasive cultivation of these crops, it is very difficult to avoid eating food that contains them in one form or another—especially when product labels do not disclose the inclusion of GMO ingredients.

The World Health Organization defines Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) as “organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally.” Most often, GMO crops are engineered to withstand heavy applications of pesticides and herbicides or to produce toxins that kill pests directly.

Scientists are currently debating whether GMOs are safe to eat and safe for the environment. This debate is reflected in the ways different countries regulate GMOs.  GMO foods are legal in the U.S. and do not require any labeling, but in more than 40 countries—including the E.U., Japan, China, and Australia—they must be labeled.  In some parts of Europe and Japan planting GMO crops is illegal.

A clear majority of Americans support mandatory labeling of GMOs, but the companies that benefit the most from GMO crops are spending millions of dollars to fight California’s Proposition 37. If passed in November, this ballot initiative will require labeling on raw or processed groceries sold in California that are made from genetically modified plants or animals. Powerful interests, including many of the largest chemical companies, have spent more than $30 million to encourage people to vote “No” on Prop 37. This is compared to just over $4 million spent by those who favor the right to know what’s in their food, including health organizations, organic food companies, and others who want to support positive change in the food system.

Many consumers think of Chipotle Mexican Grill as a healthy place to eat -- or at least a healthy alternative to other fast-food chains. The brand often promotes its commitment to naturally raised meats and local produce in a bid to distance itself from places like Taco Bell and McDonald's.  But it turns out that even at Chipotle, you can't escape genetically modified organisms (GMOs), which were developed in the '90s to increase farmers' productivity but have been dogged by criticism from some health advocates and environmentalists. The chain recently became the first fast-food chain to label the ingredients it uses that contain GMOs.  The list is buried deep in its website, not in stores, and 12 of the 24 ingredients listed on the site are tagged with a red "G" -- indicating the presence of GMOs.

The GMO-containing ingredients include all tortillas and rice, plus all of the varieties of meat besides pork carnitas. That means that the only surefire way to avoid GMOs at Chipotle would be to get a salad with lettuce, beans and, if you're a diehard carnivore, pork. But what's a visit to Chipotle without a burrito?

Chipotle's executives agree that the ubiquity of GMOs on the menu is disheartening. The company has historically campaigned for legislation that would mandate the labeling of GMOs in all venues. A note on the site's ingredient page says that the chain is trying to eliminate GMOs, but that it's impossible to find reliable sources of corn and soybeans that don't include them.

Among major companies, only Whole Foods, and Ben and Jerry's have announced similar plans to label GMO ingredients in advance of any legal requirement to do so. By taking the lead in its use of the controversial ingredients, even if only online, the chain is drawing attention to the GMO issue.

We want to encourage moms to learn as much as you can about the foods you eat, because the truth should never be hidden, and you have the right to know what’s in your food

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