Can Chipotle Mexican Grill finally get a break? After a string of food borne illness outbreaks that paralyzed the chain, a federal criminal investigation, and numerous lawsuits, the fast-casual chain has just received some much-needed good news.
After Chipotle announced last year that it had reformulated its menu to be void of any genetically engineered ingredients, some consumers said that statement was misleading as the chain still served products derived from animals who were raised on genetically engineered grains such as corn and soy. One outraged consumer filed a lawsuit against the chain last August.
According to the plaintiff’s claims, the chain’s assertions that its menu was “GMO-free” were “false, misleading, and deceptive.” The lawsuit pointed not just to the meat and dairy products from animals who’d eaten genetically engineered grains, but also to Coca-Cola brand sodas and soft drinks the chain sold. The lawsuit alleges that the soft drinks contain a sweetener—high fructose corn syrup—that most often come from genetically engineered corn.
But California federal judge Haywood Gilliam has just dismissed the case, saying that the plaintiff failed to specify which Chipotle products she purchased (that led to the suit), nor was she able to prove that the chain’s ingredients caused her any economic or personal injury.
“Plaintiff contends that the reasonable consumer would interpret ‘non-GMO ingredients’ to mean meat and dairy ingredients produced from animals that never consumed any genetically modified substances,” the judge wrote in his decision. “The Court questions whether the complaint, as currently pled, plausibly supports such an interpretation."
Chipotle also noted that it had “explicitly disclosed” that it was still serving sodas that contained GMO ingredients while working to find another supplier.
“We have always been clear that our soft drinks contained GMO ingredients,” said Chris Arnold, communications director for Chipotle Mexican Grill.
With no state or federal labeling laws for genetically engineered ingredients in the U.S., Chipotle was applauded last April for disclosing the GMO content of its food in a widely publicized ‘G-M-Over It’ campaign. It first made public the suspected GMOs in its menu offerings before replacing all of those ingredients last year.
The judge's dismissal is good news for the chain still rebounding after a devastating second-half of 2015, but whether or not it's enough to help Chipotle make a full recovery as America's favorite "healthy" fast food, is yet to be seen.
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