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Chipotle’s rhetoric is one bad burrito

Chipotle sign
OK, I’m a guy who’s had a few burritos over the years and I’ve always thought that the ones from Chipotle were pretty tasty.  But it’s the rhetoric spouted out these days by the fast food chain that’s giving me some severe indigestion.

Chipotle was in the headlines (again) recently when it trumpeted the fact that it had eliminated all GMO ingredients from its food menu. And, as it did a while back with commercials that compared farms to soulless factories, the fast food chain is dishing out a heap of misinformation along with its burritos and guacamole.

Now, I don’t have any trouble with Chipotle’s decision to use only non-GMO ingredients. Food choice is important. Restaurant companies have the right to serve customers any food that’s safe and wholesome –genetically improved or not—and consumers have every right to choose how to spend their dollars.

It’s also fine if Chipotle pays premium prices to farmers for specialty ingredients, such as non-GMO crops or pork from pigs raised outdoors. These niche markets provide a good way for farmers, especially younger farmers, to earn extra money and get a foothold in agriculture.

However, I do have a big problem with Chipotle’s very public and ridiculous reasoning for going non-GMO. The decision was made, a Chipotle executive said, because “it’s clear that a lot of research is needed before we can truly understand all of the implications of widespread GMO cultivation and consumption.”

The statement, by the company’s co-chief Steve Ells, infers that there’s something scary and untested about crops with genetically modified traits.

That’s just not true.

Biotech crops are actually more researched and tested than any other food products in human history. The safety of biotech crops has been affirmed by the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences and Academy of Dietetics, just to name a few. And then there’s the fact that trillions of meals containing GMO ingredients have been consumed around the world for decades without a single example of health problems.

In addition, biotech crops are a key tool for feeding the world’s rising population, while reducing environmental impact and providing more nutritional value in food.

No matter what they call it, this move by Chipotle is simply a marketing tactic designed to cast the chain as a more virtuous fast food choice for millennials  and others. That point was underscored in editorials which ran in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. As the Wall Street Journal editorial noted, maybe it will make their customers feel better about scarfing down a 1,000-plus-calorie burrito bowl for lunch.

By Dirck Steimel. Dirck is news services manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.