Chipotle Mexican Grill, the Denver-based fast-casual restaurant chain, says it is now serving 100 percent GMO-free foods in all of its locations.
Chipotle’s Co-CEO, Steve Ells, said the chain was committed to moving away from genetically modified ingredients because of the “lack of consensus” over their effects on human health and the environment. The chain announced the news on its website, stating it was “G-M-Over It.”
“This is another step toward the visions we have of changing the way people think about and eat fast food,” Steve Ells told the New York Times. “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.”
The restaurant earned praise in 2013 when it noted which items on its menu contained genetically modified ingredients. It was the first chain to disclose GMO ingredients—a move that’s actually more difficult than it may sound, considering there are no labeling laws for genetically modified foods. It’s actually easier for a company to identify which items don’t contain GMOs than to try and determine which items are genetically modified.
Most of the food on the Chipotle menu had already transitioned to GMO-free in the last year, after the chain replaced genetically modified canola and soybean oils with sunflower and rice bran oils. The tortillas, though, took a bit more sourcing work for the chain and were last in line to become 100 percent GMO-free. The chain also still serves fountain drinks including Coca-Cola products that are made from high-fructose corn syrup, which comes from genetically modified corn. But the chain has plans to phase out those drinks as well.
“The shortening had an oil in it that was derived from soybeans,” Chris Arnold, Chipotle’s spokesman told the Times about the change to the tortillas. “We won’t use lard for tortillas because of our vegan and vegetarian customers, and we can’t use palm oil because of the environmental impact.”
But concern has been raised about ongoing sourcing, something that becomes trickier when GMOs are banned—even when it’s a considerably small ingredient, and especially if the chain expands beyond its current roster of 1,800 locations. But, according to Ells, “The vast majority of our ingredients don’t come in a G.M.O. variety, and we use lots of whole, unprocessed foods, so it was easier for us to do,” he told the Times.
Still, high supplier standards have caused issues. Pork carnitas are still an iffy menu item for Chipotle, as the chain stopped serving them last December after animal welfare issues were discovered with a supplier. The chain says the shortage may not be resolved until the end of the year, but it seems to have no issue waiting until the situation is resolved. Beef has also been a trouble spot for the chain, which came under fire for sourcing grass-fed beef from Australia when it was unable to source from U.S. suppliers.
More than 90 percent of the soy and corn and 80 percent of canola (rapeseed) grown in the U.S. is genetically modified.
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Chipotle image via B.Positive.2014