Is this really feasible? Does it make sense?
Chipotle, the “fast-causal” chain widely praised for catalyzing the downfall of McDonalds, has gone (nearly) GMO-free. The company announced Monday that it’s succeeded in ridding its menu of food made with genetically engineered ingredients — a first, it says, for any national restaurant chain.
The FDA maintains that GMOs are safe, but many argue that we know little about their long-term health effects and, perhaps more pertinently, that they’re an unsavory representative of industrialized agriculture. Regardless of how you feel about them, Chipotle’s made it clear that they don’t jibe with its “all-natural” aspirations, and their continued presence on its menu has been one of the shortcomings tripping the company up in its quest to be as ethical as possible while still serving meat.
That the aggressively enlightened chain had GMOs to begin with may strike some as surprising. And its reform emphasizes two basic truths about the modern food industry: it takes a lot of ingredients to make a “convenience food,” while a lot of the basics are near-exclusively genetically modified.
What this article doesn’t emphasize is WHY GMO foods are so ubiquitous and hard to do without – it’s part of modern agriculture. Is Chipotle pandering to those who think GMOs need to be banned? It seems like a lot of effort and increased costs (to be passed on to consumers) to do this just for public relations.
One hint that Chipotle is a bit off the mark is this quote from Steve Ells, founder and co-chief executive of Chipotle.
“Just because food is served fast doesn’t mean it has to be made with cheap raw ingredients, highly processed with preservatives and fillers and stabilizers and artificial colors and flavors.”
That has exactly nothing to do with GMOs. And, they can’t really pull it off since they admit that some of the soft drinks it sells are likely to contain sweeteners made from GM corn, and that some of its meat and dairy supplies come from animals fed GM grains. Eating GMOs does not make you a GMO but it should signal to consumers that GMO-free restaurants are not all they are cracked up to be.
We’ve had genetically modified organisms for a very long time, since the beginning of agriculture (which is not natural) depending on your definition. Also, depending upon how you define “natural”, what’s so natural about food delivered from heated trays to a plastic bowl? Or, you might say everything that humans produce can be natural because we’re all part of nature. The semantics will trip us up and we have technology that makes life safer, better and more convenient.
The discussion about GMOs is not just about food safety. It’s about economics, the environment, agricultural practices, and fair business practices, among other things. It’s also NOT simply about being “natural” or not. There’s nothing simple at all about the GMO discussion and to make it so is a gross misunderstanding. That Chipotle would go this route will make some customers happy but will also turn others off because of what appears to be taking customer concerns (that may be baseless and hypocritical) to a rather ridiculous (some say anti-science) extreme.
There are many and varied good reasons to use GM foods and many and various reasons to want to modify the process and the business of producing food these days. It’s unclear if Chipotle’s confusing goals for their products will help or harm public understanding about the food we eat.