By Josh Scherer
On Sunday, Chipotle became the first national restaurant chain to eliminate all GMOs from its menu. Thatâ€™s no small feat in a country whereâ€”per USDA statisticsâ€”80 percent of all food products contain ingredients that have been genetically modified.
â€œThis is another step toward the visions we have of changing the way people think about and eat fast food,â€ Steve Ells, founder and coâ€“chief executive of Chipotle, said in a statement. â€œJust because food is served fast doesnâ€™t mean it has to be made with cheap raw ingredients, highly processed with preservatives and fillers and stabilizers and artificial colors and flavors.â€
This isnâ€™t the first time Chipotle has made headlines with its stance on GMOs: In 2013, it became the first national chain to voluntarily label all genetically modified ingredients. In that announcement, the company laid out a plan to remove all GMOs by the end of 2014. Though it took a few extra months, Chipotle seems confident that the changes will be worth the wait.
The biggest challenge, according to Ells, was to find non-GMO ingredients for the tortillas and the frying oil. USDA data says that 94 percent of all corn and 93 percent of all soy grown in the U.S. is genetically modified, making it difficult to find large quantities of non-GMO commodity foods such as flour and oil.
Chipotle requested that its biggest corn supplier start growing a non-GMO strain to use for its tortillas, and now, rather than frying its chips in soy oil, the chain will use sunflower oil. Even though no genetically modified foods will go directly into the burritos, tacos, and bowls, there are still remnants of GMO crops in the restaurant. Most of Chipotleâ€™s soft drinks are made with genetically modified corn syrupâ€”though the chain is looking into carrying an all-natural, cane sugarâ€“sweetened root beerâ€”and its pork and chicken will still be fed GMO feed.
Carnitas Is Coming Back, but Steak and Barbacoa Will Cost Extra Cheddar
â€œThere is a lot of debate about genetically modified foods,â€ Ells elaborated in the company press release. â€œThough many countries have already restricted or banned the use of GMO crops, itâ€™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.â€
As Ells alluded to, there is no hard scientific evidence proving that GMOs are unsafe for consumption. But according to the Center for Food Safety, 93 percent of Americans are in favor of labeling and transparency laws.
Chipotle also claimed that its food costs have not increased since it went all natural, contrary to what pro-GMO lobbyists would have consumers believe. The company announced just days ago that it would be increasing costs 4 to 6 percent in the next few months, but Ells maintains that it is all about the beef.