It’s news as big as an overstuffed veggie burrito: Chipotle, the popular Mexican-inspired fast food chain, has labeled GMO ingredients on its website. And there are a lot of them.
Chipotle’s announcement is progress. No other restaurant, or food manufacturer for that matter, labels GMOs. In the U.S., anyway. Whole Foods has given themselves five years to put a GMO labeling program in place. Some manufacturers are non-GMO verified by the Non-GMO Project, but for the most part, we’re left in the dark intentionally as the biotech industry and major food manufacturers seek to keep us from making informed decisions about what foods we put in our bodies, and what impacts our food choices have on the planet. (Because informed consumers tend to buy less of the processed stuff, which means big trouble for corporate profits.) Instead, they give us the perception of choice: do you want Cool Ranch or Nacho Cheese flavored Doritos? Cherry or Strawberry flavored yogurt filled with artificial flavors, sweeteners and colors? Diet Pepsi or Diet Coke? It’s easy to overlook the fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains and beans when we’re being asked to navigate these other food “categories.” The proof is in our skyrocketing obesity and Type 2 diabetes rates.
That’s what makes Chipotle so, well, awesome. Their menu doesn’t bog you down with McGimmicks, just healthy choices: taco or burrito? Brown rice or white? Pinto beans or black beans? Choosing healthy, simple ingredients offers consumers a break from the branded world of foodstuffs, and any familiarity with whole ingredients is a step towards fixing our diet issues. Sustainability and healthy ingredients have been core focuses that set Chipotle apart from other chains. Chipotle has proven that locally sourced ingredients and healthier meat and dairy products can be utilized in a fast food environment while still being affordable (and tasty). The chain looks to support farmers as much as the consumer with its menu items and quality commitments. Their gimmick is no gimmick. And it’s refreshing.
In countries where GMO labeling laws are in effect, consumer support typically dwindles for GMO products. Manufacturers reformulate. Monsanto, the targeted company for the anti-GMO movement, recently announced it would be withdrawing applications from the European Union for GMO crops. The science just isn’t there on the long-term health implications of foods that are designed to tolerate massive amounts of pesticides. We’re already seeing the environmental impact with pesticide and herbicide resistant bugs and weeds, and those that can’t tolerate the chemicals–particularly important pollinators facing epidemic level die-offs that now threaten the global food supply.
How Chipotle even determined what ingredients are genetically modified is impressive considering there’s little in the way of paper trails. GMO-free options don’t seem to exist in the quantities they need, the company claims. And it doesn’t sound like they have plans any time soon to reformulate their menu offerings to be 100 percent GMO-free. But they could, considering one of the most common GMO ingredients on the menu is soybean oil. (The company notes it’s working to transition from soybean to rice bran oil in most markets.) Corn may be a bit more difficult, understandably, but adding a GMO-free (organic) option could sweeten the deal for consumers wanting to avoid GMOs (but still enjoy a taco).
Still, the question isn’t whether or not Chipotle can change their menu offerings, but whether disclosure is just as good. The responses are mixed. Some consumers are saying they’re thrilled, congratulating Chipotle and swearing to continue to support the chain. Others are turned off by the presence of GMOs and will no longer eat there. Is the move a victory? Or does it just emphasize the overwhelming prevalence of GMOs in American food?
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