Chipotle Mexican Grill announced on Sunday that it had completed an initiative to remove all food containing genetically modified organisms (GMO) from its menu. The Denver-based company is the first major fast-food restaurant chain to ban genetically engineered ingredients.
“This is another step toward the visions we have of changing the way people think about and eat fast food,” Chipotle co-CEO Steve Ells told The New York Times, which first reported the story. “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.”
Chipotle was also the first major chain to disclose which of its foods contained GMOs starting in 2013, when it said it was working on transitioning to a tortilla that did not use them.
Most of the United States' corn and soybean crop is genetically modified to have certain traits like resistance to plant diseases. The head of the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) food safety center has said that GMOs pose no different safety concerns than foods developed by traditional plant breeding. However, many scientists dispute the claim.
In recent years, activists have called for regulations that require labeling for foods that contain GMOs. Many companies have already responded to such concerns. Whole Foods has said all products in its stores that contain GMOs will be labeled as such by 2018.
Ells said Chipotle felt it was best not to use GMOs given the "lack of consensus" about their effects.
Chipotle still serves Coca-Cola fountain drinks, which are made with high-fructose corn syrup. But this past summer, Chipotle started testing a root beer that is organically sweetened in Denver. That test is ongoing, said Chris Arnold, a company spokesman.
Chipotle has experienced shortages of certain ingredients in its efforts to serve meats that meet its animal welfare standards, namely that animals are housed humanely and allowed outdoor access. In January, the company announced that it would stop selling carnitas, the pork it serves in its tacos and burritos, after learning that one of its suppliers had violated those standards.
Last week, Chipotle said the carnitas shortage, which it has addressed by alternating its pork supply through its 1,800 U.S. restaurants, would continue for the rest of 2015.
But the restaurant does not anticipate shortages of non-GMO ingredients.
“We’re working with our farmers to plan enough of these crops we need to meet our supply,” Ells told the Times. “With pork, it’s harder because we only need one part of the animal, the shoulder, and the farmer needs to sell the whole animal to make it work.”
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press