GMO Labeling Update: Chipotle Boldly Goes Where No Restaurant Has Gone Before!

Chipotle's Mexican Grill sign

In a move guaranteed to energize food revolutionaries and annoy Monsanto executives, Chipotle becomes the first restaurant to label GMOs. The company also plans to reduce GMO-containing menu items by shifting from soybean to sunflower oil, and exploring other ingredient changes. Along with similar announcements earlier this year from Whole Foods, Ben & Jerry’s, and Target, Chipotle’s new policy reflects a trend that’s gaining ground like wildfire: people want GMO labeling, and non-GMO dining!

Groundbreaking G’s

Apparently Chipotle began quietly labeling GMO ingredients on its website menu in March, but didn’t draw much media attention over the new policy until last week. Menu items containing GMOs are tagged with a red ‘G’ on their website menu. The chain doesn’t plan to add the labels to their 3-D actual menus, at least not in the immediate future, due to space constraints — so you have to go online to get the GMO deets.

But that’s more than any other restaurant has done so far, and Chipotle deserves a generous round of kudos for going there!

Chipotle has taken the first step, but acknowledges there’s much yet to be done. As stated on their website, the ultimate goal is to eliminate GMOs from all ingredients used by Chipotle restaurants. But right now that’s far from the case — the GMO-free options are few in number. Usually the problem is corn or soybeans, which (in the US anyway, since we’ve allowed the biotech industry to monopolize our ag system) are almost always from genetically modified crops.

As a recent Huffington Post article summarizes,

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.

Cookin’ Up Some Progress

So Chipotle has already begun implementing some ingredient changes to move away from corn and soy as much as possible — like using sunflower oil in its fryers, and exploring rice-bran oil instead of soybean oil. But without sweeping reforms (structural changes to our subsidy and labeling systems, and/ or mandatory GMO labeling at either state or federal levels), a restaurant faces daunting obstacles on the GMO-free road.

But Chipotle is the first restaurant to pack the car, start the engine, and pull out of the driveway. And on this particular trip, so far that puts them squarely at the front of the race!

It’s not surprising that Chipotle would be the first restaurant to implement voluntary GMO labeling. They’re already a favorite with conscious eaters because of their Food With Integrity theme, and their emphasis on fresh, local, responsibly sourced ingredients — they also offer some of the best vegan options on the chain-restaurant scene.

Perhaps partly because this model has worked so well for them, they don’t seem worried about any backlash from the groundbreaking new GMO labeling plan.

In a BusinessWeek interview, Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold clarified the company’s position:

“It’s not a concern to us that we’re going to lose business over this,” says Arnold. “If anything, it engenders more trust when you’re more forthcoming about the food you serve. Any downside there may be … is going to be eclipsed by the upside with being transparent.”

Indeed, my Chipotle compadres: INDEED!

Why Should We Care?

For more on why GMOs and GMO labeling issues are a big deal, for anyone who eats food:

Chipotle’s recent labeling initiative doesn’t stand alone: public awareness and consumer demand are pushing food trends towards GMO labeling and responsible sourcing. Good job, everyone! Keep it up — it’s working! Check out GMO Free USA to find ideas for taking conscious shopping to the next level, vis a vis GMOs.

Yay for Chipotle, Woot for Progress!

Next time you’re in a Chipotle restaurant, tell the manager how much you appreciate companies who put their money where their mouth is — er, where YOUR mouth is — and try to do things the right way. Or just take a moment to tell ’em right now!

Now, then… attention please, every other restaurant that wants my business: batter up!

Your turn.

Image credit: Creative Commons photo by Ryosuke Yagi.

5 thoughts on “GMO Labeling Update: Chipotle Boldly Goes Where No Restaurant Has Gone Before!”

  1. We’re happy to see that more restaurants are coming on board with supporting non-GMO foods! While Chipotle may be the first restaurant to label genetically modified foods, Nature’s Express in Berkeley, CA was the first restaurant to offer a non-GMO certified menu. The rigorous certification is offered by the Non-GMO project:

    1. Thanks so much, Jean! Often it’s the bigger fish that make the news, but the smaller ones doing more to strive for change. Kudos to Nature’s Express, and thanks for letting me know about it! :)

  2. Certainly hoping Chipotle stops using soybean oil… It’s a big allergen for me and many others.. My family loves Chipotle, and is one of the few places where our family (vegan and not) can eat… But after having a terrible reaction from the soybean oil, I sadly cannot.. Here’s to change!!

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