Fast-food giant Chipotle has hopped on the anti-GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) bandwagon, declaring its food will be GMO-free as of the company’s announcement last week. Many are heralding this as a great victory for the food industry, in which the negative sentiment towards GMOs has been growing stronger in recent years, despite the fact that there has been no conclusive evidence of any negative health effects from GMOs (though there are certainly enough results for both sides of the argument to point to).
Regardless of the actual effects of GMOs, Chipotle is being lauded by consumers for following through on its commitment to rid its products of them. The way it announced the change (by way of a very well-received animated short) made a strong impact on consumers, creating an anti-big business image of supporting traditional farms. Combining this new pledge to be rid of GMOs with Chipotle’s standing policies about the humane treatment of its pork supply and antibiotic-free chickens, Chipotle has positioned itself very nicely as a socially responsible, environmentally friendly food joint.
The most remarkable part of this campaign is that Chipotle is actually still serving a ton of GMOs. While they no longer serve them outright in their tortillas or veggies, their soda is still sweetened via GMOs (“Many of the beverages sold in our restaurants contain genetically modified ingredients, including those containing corn syrup, which is almost always made from GMO corn,” reads Chipotle’s website under the beverages section, and its meat is still raised on feed that contains GMOs. Is this consistent with its message? Of course not. But it doesn’t take a cynic to realize that Chipotle values the ability to claim to be GMO-free more than actually being GMO-free.
Taking GMOs out of its food doesn’t mean Chipotle is healthy—a greasy burrito packed with calories and sodium isn’t going to be healthy regardless of whether it contains GMOs or not—but advertising itself as GMO-free may just be the deciding factor in allowing customers to convince themselves that a trip to Chipotle isn’t too bad. And it allows Chipotle present itself as being on the moral high ground, supporting the little farmer rather than big business, which may make them more appealing to a socially-minded consumer than a competitor like Qdoba.
Unfortunately for Chipotle, the press reaction has been less than positive. In this era of skepticism, there was no shortage of media outlets that poked holes in the Chipotle announcement, ranging from Mother Jones to the Los Angeles Times. Whether this negative media reaction will eclipse the message that Chipotle is attempting to convey will ultimately determine the effectiveness of its new initiative.
The general perception in the media of the move seems to be that it’s a marketing attempt to sell burritos. Then again, my Facebook feed seems to think that Chipotle is the messiah of the food industry, and has come to save us from the modern evils of GMOs. What’s your take on the announcement? Let us know in the comments.