Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. is in the process of developing ways to reduce the number of GMO ingredients on hits menu.
For the American restaurant chain Chipotle, “food with integrity” now means using fewer GMO products.
In March, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. jumped into the debate over genetically engineered foods, becoming the first U.S. company to post labels on its website to let customers know which of its menu items contained GMO ingredients.
“We decided last fall that this was something that really mattered to us,” Chris Arnold, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. Director of Communications, told the Daily News. “We don’t have a timeline to become GMO-free, but it is something that is very much in our crosshairs.”
As for now, Chipotle has identified several of its menu items—from tortilla chips to chicken cooked in soybean oil—as containing genetically modified organisms. Given the company’s preference for using organic, and locally produced ingredients, some customers were caught off-guard by the disclosure.
“We’ve heard from customers who are surprised to see that there are any GMOs in our food,” Arnold said, “but the truth is they are enormously difficult to avoid in this country.”
In fact, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, 93 percent of the soybeans grown in America, and 85 percent of the corn comes from genetically modified seed.
While the USDA approved a voluntary labeling system for some GMO foods, the industry remains staunchly opposed to labels.
GMO seed producers like Monsanto are quick to point out that there is scant scientific evidence showing that genetically engineered foods are harmful to human health, but bills to force manufacturers to label GMO ingredients are cropping up across the country.
In March, Chipotle became the first U.S. company to disclose which of its menu items contain GMO ingredients.
Chipotle threw its support behind California’s proposition 37, a defeated 2012 voter initiative that would have mandated that genetically engineered foods be labeled.
“We decided that in the absence of a clear consensus we are going to try and find ways to reduce GMOs in our food,” Arnold said.
To help reduce the number of menu items that contain genetically modified ingredients, Chipotle has begun substituting a non-GMO sunflower oil for the soybean oil the chain fries its chips, chicken and vegetables in.
“We’re also testing a non-GMO rice oil in New York,” Arnold said. “We are working on the things that are within our control.”
For now, that doesn’t include replacing Coca-cola fountain soda dispensers at any of its 1,300 stores nationwide. Coke, of course, contains high fructose corn syrup, which is invariably made with GMO corn.
Purchasing meat is also a daunting question for any large restaurant chain considering going GMO-free, Arnold said, since a big percentage animals in the U.S. are fed corn grown from GMO seeds.
Sill, Chipotle’s efforts to date seem to be paying off with what Arnold describes as a small but growing percentage of its customers.
“The GMO debate is just starting to heat up in this country,” Arnold said. “Most of the feedback we’ve received so far has been quite positive.”