Since the company's founding, Chipotle has championed humanely raised meats and sourced as much organic and local produce and beans as it could for its roughly 1,450 restaurants. The chain even produced the best Grammy ad ever exposing the damage that factory farms do, not just to animals, but to farmers and the environment.
Nonetheless, it seems even this good-hearted chain can't escape genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, ingredients derived from plants (mainly corn and soy) whose DNA has been modified to resist insects or toxic pesticides. The company recently updated its ingredients list and highlighted each topping, tortilla, and meat product that's made with GMO ingredients.
Turns out, there are quite a few. According to Chipotle's updated Ingredients Statement, the steak, barbacoa (shredded steak), chicken, salad dressing, fajita vegetables, and rice on the menu are made with soybean oil. The tortillas and chips are also made with soybean oil and contain other food-processing ingredients derived from GMO corn and soy.
Company representatives didn't have a comment on the revelations, which were first uncovered by the Huffington Post, except to say that they would have more information on GMOs soon.
However, the chain's ingredients page lists GMOs under a header that says "Always Room for Improvement," followed by this explanation: "Our goal is to eliminate GMOs from Chipotle's ingredients, and we're working hard to meet this challenge." The site goes on to say that sunflower oil will be replacing soybean oil in all the company's fryers, and in Manhattan stores, the meats are marinated in rice-bran oil instead of soybean oil.
This is a bold move for any national chain. Federal law doesn't require any company to divulge ingredients made from GMOs, although a bill in Congress is trying to change that. But Maine and Connecticut have both recently passed laws requiring GMOs to be labeled, so long as other Northeastern states do the same. It could be that Chipotle sees the writing on the wall; another big national chain, Target, just debuted a line of natural foods that will be free of GMOs by the end of 2014, and the grocery Whole Foods has announced it will have all GMO products labeled by 2017.
Although Chipotle is catching flak from some of its customers, a quick glance at the company's Facebook page suggests that more people are happy that a big chain is finally labeling GMOs than feel slighted. No other national restaurant or fast-food chain has stepped up to make similar disclosures, yet according to industry estimates, 80 percent of processed foods Americans eat are made with GMO ingredients. The company is making strides in other ways too. Currently, 99 percent of the cilantro Chipotle buys is certified organic, and they purchased 15 million pounds of local produce and 8.5 million pounds of organic black and pinto beans last year (however, company reps couldn't explain what proportion of total produce and bean purchases those represent).
The good news is that now, thanks to Chipotle's disclosure, you can actually find a GMO-free meal on the go. Here's what to eat next time you visit:
• Carnitas (or shredded pork, although a company rep told customers that there is no way right now that the chain can guarantee that the animals eat a GMO-free diet)
• Black beans
• Cheese and sour cream (although, again, the animals may not have been raised on GMO-free feed)
• All varieties of salsa.
Published on: June 20, 2013
Updated on: June 21, 2013