The Mexican chain is the first in the nation to label all their genetically modified ingredients
Following in the footsteps of Ben & Jerry's and Whole Foods, who will voluntarily label (and hopefully will get rid of) genetically modified ingredients, Chipotle has quietly taken to its website to identify what products contain GMOS, and what don't.
On the "Ingredients Statement" on its website, Natural News reports, Chipotle outlines which food products still contain GMOS, including barbacoa, chicken, fajita vegetables, rice, steak, and tortillas. While the base meats and ingredients may not be genetically modified, the company products are still labeled as genetically modified because they're fried with soybean oil, which is primarily made with genetically modified soybeans.
Of course, the company is hoping to phase out all GMO ingredients eventually, switching from soybean oil to GMO-free sunflower oil when possible. And while they don't have a timeline for when they may be GMO-free, it's good to know that at least the information is already online (Whole Foods has vowed to have all GMO-laced products labeled by 2018). We wonder if these markers will be in-stores, too.
Chipotle, Ben & Jerry's, and Others Vow To Go GMO Free
Vermont recently became the first state to require GMO labeling, so obviously it’s now being sued by food industry groups.
The Grocery Manufacturer’s Association (GMA), the Snack Food Association, the International Dairy Foods Association, and the National Association of Manufacturers are collectively arguing that Vermont is interfering with interstate commerce, which is unconstitutional, and we should return to being the only continent in the world without any GMO labeling regulation.
The fact that this lawsuit is happening is clearly no surprise to anyone, least of all the Green Mountain state, which built a $1.5 million legal defense fund into the legislation. “We’re very early in what’s very likely to be a long fight,” Vermont Attorney General William H. Sorrell told Bloomberg news. But while lawmakers are hunkering down for a protracted legal battle, some companies are taking note of the fact that most Americans support GMO labeling. And they’re responding by voluntarily labeling their products or moving away from GMO ingredients altogether.
Ben & Jerry’s cofounder Jerry Greenfield lends support to a Washington GMO labeling initiative in October 2013. The measure did not pass. (Photo: Ben & Jerry’s)
That’s not to say they’re all doing it for noble reasons. While Ben & Jerry’s actively supports GMO labeling, many saw General Mills’ removal of GMO from Cheerios earlier this year as little more thanਊ marketing ploy. But the fact that a company that previously spent $1.1 million on fightingਊ GMO labeling law in California would even pander to consumers in this way is an acknowledgement of how strong anti-GMO public sentiment is. And if moving away from GMO ingredients means better sales, more brands will do it—whether there’s a labeling law or not.
Here’s a look at some of the companies that are taking steps towards being GMO free.
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Chipotle to Voluntarily Label GMO - Recipes
Chipotle lovers around the country will need to scrape a few more coins from the bottom of their wallets soon – but it’s all for good reason, if you’re at all concerned with consuming GMO foods while eating out.
After recently reporting their third-quarter earnings, CEO and Founder Steve Ells said that a three to five percent price increase on Chipotle food goodies may be on its way as soon as next year. The actual price increase will depend on general ingredient inflation and “then what it costs us to remove GMOs from the rest of our ingredients,” Ells stated.
Ells also said that once he knows how much it will cost to remove GMOs from its food altogether, as well as the time it might take to do so, they will “feel better about coordinating a price increase around the time that [they’re] removing GMOs.”
”We think it will be a pretty exciting time for us when we can announce that,” said Ells.
Chipotle is quickly becoming known for its stance and initiatives toward a healthier food supply, including its move to offer organic and vegan tofu sofritas and its film/game “The Scarecrow,” which aimed to help people learn more about the benefits of “real food” versus the processed stuff.
Health Risks Are Unknown
Specific engineered organisms may be harmful by virtue of the novel gene combinations they possess. No one knows with certainty how these new life forms will behave in the future, so the limited risk assessments conducted to date are poor predictors of the safety of GMOs over the long term.
Risk assessment is further challenged by the highly complex web of regulatory review, which involves three government agencies and dozens of departments with competing interests that render government oversight practically toothless.
At the most basic level, so-called government risk assessment is suspect because it actually conducts no research on its own. Health and safety reviews rely almost entirely on data supplied by the very companies seeking approvals for their new GMO products. This is a serious conflict of interest that brings into question the validity of safety assurances from the government.
Chipotle Is Saying No To GMOs. Here's Why.
The values behind our Food With Integrity philosophy influence virtually every decision made at Chipotle.
We have lots to say about what Food With Integrity stands for, but it is, simply put, a vision for continuous improvement of the ingredients that we source for the foods that we prepare and serve to our customers. The vision is driven by the fact that the food landscape never stops changing, and there's always room to be better.
This mentality, and the standards that have evolved as a result, are responsible for an initiative that brought Chipotle a lot of attention--both positive and negative--over the last year: our decision to voluntarily disclose the presence of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in our food and our commitment to remove the GMOs from our food to the fullest extent possible.
We knew at the time that showing the world which of our menu items is likely to contain GMOs and working to eliminate these same ingredients would present some hurdles. But in the end, these were easy decisions to make, because they are consistent with two values that form the foundation of Food With Integrity.
First, we have always been committed to learning as much as possible about where our food comes from, and being as transparent as possible. Disclosing the GMOs on our menu followed naturally from this.
Second, we have always sought to ensure that our food not only tastes delicious, but that it is also nourishing. We believe that everyone, including Chipotle customers, should have access to food made from ingredients produced in a way that preserves farms and rural communities for future generations. And we know that without healthy soil, you can't produce healthy food. Given the possibility that widespread cultivation and consumption of genetically modified ingredients could compromise these things, we feel a responsibility to our customers to seek out non-GMO alternatives whenever possible.
This decision has been portrayed as controversial. Critics claim that disclosure is expensive and that we can't feed the world without GMOs. We're always willing to consider the possibility that we don't have all the answers, but try as we might, it's been tough for us to come up with a rock-solid argument against Chipotle's position on GMOs.
Multiple national surveys have been conducted about GMO labeling and the consumer's right to know what's in our food. The results have been fairly consistent: more than 90% of Americans are in favor of knowing when they are eating foods made with genetically modified ingredients.
The companies that sell GMO seeds claim that growing their genetically modified crops is good for farmers. Yet it's those same companies--not the farmers--that benefit the most from GMO-based farming. Genetically modifying species like corn or soybeans allows the companies to patent seeds, which gives them greater control over what farmers are able to grow--and as a result, greater control over the food supply. And while the companies that sell GMO seeds to farmers insist that their products are safe for people, animals, and the environment, there is an active debate among scientists about whether or not there is sufficient data to support that conclusion. Since the government continues to rely on the industry to determine whether or not their products are safe, there is little objective research available on the topic.
The argument that GMOs are an improvement over natural seeds because they were produced by scientists is a convenient one. After all, most reasonable people agree that science has produced some astounding advances.
But genetically modified foods hold out promises that are at best untested, and at worst unrealistic. Traditional edible plants and animals have evolved alongside humans over thousands of years to provide the people who eat them with essential nourishment. In exchange for this, we have an obligation to those plants and animals to keep caring for them responsibly.
For most of our history, it's been a great deal for all involved. And we'd like to help keep it that way.
Who Will Follow Chipotle’s Anti-GMO Lead?
Chipotle's (NYSE:CMG) anti-GMO (genetically modified organism) mission coincided with a 30% jump in fourth quarter profits, and adaptable restaurant chains may soon try to cash in on the positive public response to going GMO-free. Are there any other companies that could pull off the transition to GMO-free menus as well as Chipotle? And even if they can, would they see the same positive results?
Why it works for Chipotle
What separates the anti-GMO move by Chipotle from a similar move by any other restaurant chain is authenticity. Chipotle understands and has always marketed toward the more 'food-conscious' consumers that want to know the origins of the food they ingest. The Chipotle menu has always had a small list of ingredients when compared with traditional fast-food restaurants, and the company has always emphasized the local sourcing of these ingredients and seeks organic ingredients whenever feasible. McDonald's could make a pledge to use only hormone-free beef in all Big Macs, but such a move is not consistent with the rest of the already-established brand and would do little to attract consumers seeking sustainable foods.
Chipotle has seen impressive growth in same-store sales since vowing to go GMO-free almost a year ago, though the growth cannot be entirely attributed to consumers seeking to remove GMOs from their diet. With a constantly growing number of new store openings (nearly 200 are planned for 2014) and quickly increasing advertising expenses, tracing the portion of increased profits attributable to GMO-labeling and reduction of GMOs in their foods is difficult to say the least. Perhaps a better indicator of how the public is willing to buy into the GMO-free market is tracking how a well-established, slower-growing brand like Cheerios is able to profit from announced plans to go GMO-free.
Who else could pull off anti-GMO?
Healthy eaters are not necessarily synonymous with anti-GMO consumers, but the establishments that cater toward healthy eaters are more likely to portray a brand image that puts value on organic and GMO-free foods. That said, Subway would be more likely to make an anti-GMO push than would KFC, even if the transition would require more sourcing of GMO-free ingredients.
Chipotle's vow to remove GMOs from its menu is feasible in part because the menu is already not loaded with corn and soy products. Without meaning to take away from the company's efforts to provide consumers with the ingredients they want, removing GMOs from Chipotle's menu is remarkably easier than removing GMOs from the menus of most common fast food restaurants, which are packed with highly processed foods laden with corn and soy byproducts. Chipotle's primary ingredients are already GMO-free due to its conscious use of rice-bran oil in place of soybean oil in its beans, rice, and meat products, and a move to sunflower oil in place of soybean oil in its fryers. Challenges that remain for Chipotle will be finding suitable and available ingredients to replace GMO corn in corn tortillas and tortilla chips (though this is already in place at restaurants in California, Oregon, Washington, and parts of Ohio and Michigan) and the more imposing task of finding a viable source for meat and dairy products from animals not raised on GMO feed.
Due to the sheer magnitude of ingredients that would need replacing, most of the nation's largest restaurant chains could not feasibly achieve a full GMO-free menu. Even for companies with very limited food offerings like Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) , a removal of GMOs from the menu would be extremely challenging due largely to the overwhelming presence of GMOs in almost all baked goods.
Only a small collection of restaurants could feasibly shift to a GMO-free menu, and the portion of those companies for which the transition matches the image and target market of the establishment is even smaller. The two companies that could, with a very concerted effort, make a GMO-free pledge that translated to profit gains are Panera (NASDAQ:PNRA) and Noodles & Company (NASDAQ:NDLS) .
Panera was recently named the healthiest fast food restaurant in America by Health magazine, in part because of its organic menu offerings, but the company has done little to increase GMO-free menu options. A move to completely rid its menu of GMOs is unlikely, but given the company's reputation as a healthier option in the fast-casual restaurant market, Panera may be one of the first companies to follow Chipotle's lead to voluntarily label GMO-containing menu items.
Noodles & Company is in a similar position to Panera and could feasibly take steps to reduce the prevalence of GMOs in its menu offerings. However, in a move catering to healthier eaters, the company currently uses only soybean oil to sauté its dishes, making nearly every item on the menu GMO-filled. Chipotle has transitioned away from the use of soybean oil, but such a move by Noodles & Company would require a substantial reworking of the entire menu. If that major obstacle were overcome, the company would have less GMO-free sourcing for its remaining menu items than many of its competitors in fast casual food.
What to expect
A move by the largest chain restaurants to go GMO-free will not happen anytime soon due simply to the widespread prevalence of GMO ingredients and the currently limited sources for large supplies of GMO-free corn and soybeans and the even scarcer supply of meat and dairy products from animals raised on GMO-free feed. Chipotle has established itself as the only national restaurant chain willing and able to cater to the growing number of consumers seeking conveniently sustainable food and its efforts will be rewarded with truly organic growth. While the list of restaurants likely to follow Chipotle's lead in vowing to go completely GMO-free is currently empty, expect the voluntary labeling of GMO-containing products and the number of GMO-free menu selections at larger restaurant chains to grow in the near future. More and more consumers want to know the origins of the food they eat, and responsive companies should see the benefit in giving the consumers what they want.
Chipotle Becomes the First National Restaurant Company to Use Only Non-GMO Ingredients
DENVER--( BUSINESS WIRE )--Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE: CMG) has achieved its goal of moving to only non-GMO ingredients to make all of the food in its U.S. restaurants – including all of the food at its Asian restaurant concept, ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen. The company is now actively developing new recipes for its tortillas, which are the only food items on its menu that include any artificial additives. Both initiatives underscore Chipotle’s commitment to serving food made from the very best ingredients.
GMOs, or genetically modified organisms, are crops that have had specific changes introduced to their DNA that don’t occur naturally, using the science of genetic engineering. GMOs are common in the American food system. According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, 94% of corn and 93% of soybeans grown in this country came from GMO strains in 2014. As a result, more than 80% of foods consumed in the U.S. contain genetically modified ingredients, by some estimates, making it very difficult for consumers to avoid GMO ingredients in restaurants or in food purchased in grocery stores.
“There is a lot of debate about genetically modified foods,” said Steve Ells, founder, chairman and co-CEO of Chipotle. “Though many countries have already restricted or banned the use of GMO crops, it’s clear that a lot of research is still needed before we can truly understand all of the implications of widespread GMO cultivation and consumption. While that debate continues, we decided to move to non-GMO ingredients.”
Chipotle became the first national restaurant company to voluntarily disclose GMO ingredients in its food in March 2013, and pledged at that time to move to non-GMO ingredients for all of its food. Most of the company’s use of genetically modified ingredients was tied to soybean oil, which it used to cook chips and taco shells, and in a number of recipes (such as the adobo rub it uses for grilled chicken and steak) and for cooking (both on its grills and for use in sauté pans). Corn and flour tortillas also included some GMO ingredients.
Chipotle suppliers planted non-GMO corn varieties to meet Chipotle’s needs for corn tortillas, and the company replaced soybean oil with sunflower oil to cook its chips and taco shells, and with rice bran oil for other recipes and uses. Both oils are extracted from crops for which there are no commercially available genetically modified varieties. Other GMO ingredients in tortillas were replaced with non-GMO alternatives.
While GMO advocates point to higher costs associated with producing non-GMO foods, Chipotle’s move to non-GMO ingredients did not result in significantly higher ingredient costs for the company, and it did not raise prices resulting from its move to non-GMO ingredients.
With the transition to non-GMO ingredients for its food completed, Chipotle has set its sights on eliminating the few remaining artificial ingredients from its tortillas. Excluding tortillas, the food on Chipotle’s entire menu consists of just 46 ingredients – nearly all of which are simple, whole ingredients that could be purchased at any local supermarket. By contrast, a typical Mexican fast food restaurant may use well over 200 different ingredients.
Tortillas are the only food item on Chipotle’s menu that contains any additives, which include a minimal number of preservatives and dough conditioners. While the company has made significant strides in reducing the number of additives in its tortillas, it is now embarking on a quest to eliminate all of the remaining additives. The goal is to achieve a simple recipe with only a few ingredients, much like tortillas made in more traditional ways that include only wheat flour, oil, water, salt and a starter for flour tortillas, for example.
Achieving this goal will be difficult and take time. Tortillas today are made very quickly and require the use of dough conditioners to give the tortilla the consistency that was once achieved by allowing the dough to rise slowly. Chipotle is working in close partnership with its tortilla suppliers and the Bread Lab at Washington State University to develop a new system of making tortillas that will allow the dough to rise slowly and eliminate the need for the dough conditioners. Eliminating the few preservatives will be slightly easier, but still a challenge simply because tortillas are difficult to keep fresh for long.
The company has developed new tortilla recipes and initial taste tests have been very encouraging, but it’s too early to say how long it will take before these new tortillas will be served at any Chipotle locations.
“We are changing the way people think about and eat fast food, and that means cooking with the very best ingredients – ingredients that are free of additives – but still serving food that is affordable, convenient, and most importantly delicious,” said Ells. “That’s really unusual in fast food, but that’s the quest we are on, and we continue to make progress."
The GMO Labeling Battle Is Heating Up—Here's Why
The food industry wants Congress to pass federal legislation that will keep labeling voluntary.
For food activists like Dave Murphy, founder of Food Democracy Now, the news that Cheerios changed its recipe and will no longer contain any genetically modified ingredients couldn't have come at a more opportune time.
"It's a really big move for a company like General Mills," Murphy said. "It's a huge victory for consumers."
General Mills announced the change to America's best-known breakfast cereal this month, just as the political battle over genetically modified foods heats up on the national stage.
The titans of the food industry, General Mills included, have long and successfully opposed efforts in Congress to require mandatory labeling of genetically altered foods.
But instead of letting those proposals die quietly, the Grocery Manufacturers Association is moving assertively to push industry-authored legislation that would deem all GMO labeling voluntary. Such legislation would also specifically preempt "any state labeling laws that are not identical to the federal program," according to a memo detailing the industry's battle that surfaced this week on Politico.
The effort to thwart the states is regarded as a hedge against a vocal consumer movement that is making inroads at the state level.
Until now, the fiercest confrontations over GMOs have taken place outside Washington. Maine and Connecticut passed labeling laws last year. Proposals to require labeling of genetically altered foods are under consideration in 26 states. The New Hampshire legislature is expected to vote next week on a labeling bill there, and the Vermont Senate soon after.
The food industry spent almost $70 million to defeat ballot initiatives in California and Washington state Murphy said his organization is working to put initiatives on the November ballot in Colorado and Oregon.
About 90 percent of commodity crops used in the nation's food supply, including soybeans, sugar beets, and feed corn, are genetically engineered. They are known as genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. The food industry resists labeling them out of concern that naming the presence of GMOs creates fear over food safety while it informs.
"It could be tantamount to putting a skull and crossbones on the labels," said an industry adviser in Washington who is familiar with the industry's new political strategy. "They are concerned about misleading consumers in every direction."
So why would General Mills, which is opposed to mandatory labeling, decide to purge Cheerios of GMOs now? For starters, it wasn't all that hard. There are no GMO oats, the primary ingredient in Cheerios. All General Mills had to do was switch to non-GMO sources of the small amount of cornstarch and sugar added to the cereal.
The change affects only the original Cheerios and not spinoff varieties like Honey Nut Cheerios.
"It's not much of a change at all," wrote Tom Forsythe, a General Mills spokesman in a posting on the company website. He added: "But it's not about safety. And it was never about pressure . . . We did it because we think consumers might embrace it."
That's likely to be the case. While the Food and Drug Administration has deemed GMOs safe for human consumption, 9 in 10 Americans say they support the labeling of modified foods.
The Cheerios announcement is just the latest sign of a marketing trend aimed at capitalizing on consumer distrust of GMOs. Last spring, Whole Foods Market announced it will require all genetically altered products sold in its U.S. and Canadian stores to be labeled by 2018. (Trader Joe's said it eliminated GMO from products carrying the Trader Joe's label more than a decade ago.)
Chipotle Mexican Grill said it is working to eliminate genetically altered food from its menu, and Ben and Jerry's, which campaigned in support of the Washington state initiative, has announced plans to begin producing ice cream that is GMO-free by next year.
Still, the change in Cheerios is the first time an ordinary American product has dropped GMOs. The cereal is not a niche-market product, and General Mills' customer base is hardly the narrow slice of upscale patrons who shop at Whole Foods.
"It's a sign of the power of the growing grassroots movement," said Murphy, the food activist. "And a reminder that in America, the consumer is king."
Chipotle Labels GMOs…So, Should You Still Eat There?
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?