Chipotle goes non-GMO, and embarks on ‘quest to eliminate additives’

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Chipotle goes non-GMO, embarks on ‘quest to eliminate additives’

Related tags Genetically modified food Genetically modified organism Maize

Chipotle Mexican Grill has “achieved its goal of moving to only non-GMO ingredients to make all of the food in its US restaurants”, and is now embarking on a quest to eliminate additives such as dough conditioners from its foods.

The company said it wanted to use “ingredients raised with care for animals, farmers, and the environment,​” and was “doubtful that the GMO ingredients that used to be in our food meet these criteria”​  - claims supporters of GM crops strongly refute.

Although every major scientific and regulatory body has concluded that foods from approved GM crops are safe for human consumption*, meanwhile, Chipotle said the jury was still out,​ adding: “We don’t believe the scientific community has reached a consensus on the long-term implications of widespread GMO cultivation and consumption​.”

Prices will not go up

The key ingredients Chipotle has been looking to replace are soybean oil for cooking chips and taco shells and for cooking foods on its grills and sauté pans, plus some corn-based ingredients in its tortillas.

The soybean oil has been replaced with sunflower oil and rice bran oil, while corn ingredients have been replaced with non-GMO alternatives, said Chipotle, which said the move “did not result in significantly higher ingredient costs” ​and would not prompt a price rise for consumers.

Commenting on the move in her Food Politics blog​, Dr Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University, claimed that this was about transparency, not safety, adding: "GMO corn ingredients were not making Chipotle customers sick... this is a matter of trust.

"Chipotle customers are offended that GMO foods are not labeled and that they have no choice about whether to eat them."

Chipotle seeking to eliminate additives, preservatives

Chipotle is now “embarking on a quest to eliminate all of the remaining additives​” such as dough conditioners in its tortillas, added the firm, which became the first national restaurant company to voluntarily disclose GMO ingredients in its food in March 2013.

 “Tortillas today are made very quickly and require the use of dough conditioners to give the tortilla the consistency that was once achieved by allowing the dough to rise slowly. Chipotle is working in close partnership with its tortilla suppliers and the Bread Lab at Washington State University to develop a new system of making tortillas that will allow the dough to rise slowly and eliminate the need for the dough conditioners.

“Eliminating the few preservatives will be slightly easier, but still a challenge simply because tortillas are difficult to keep fresh for long.”

While many commentators welcomed the move, CSPI GMO expert Greg Jaffe called it "hypocritical​" and based on "smoke and mirrors"​, while the Washington Post described it as taking "righteous chowing-down to a troubling new level"​ given that the meat in Chipotle restaurants still comes from animals fed GM feed.

Meanwhile, The Daily Show took an amusing swipe at non-GMO activists in a slot​ exploring Simplot's ‘Innate​potatoes​, which have been genetically engineered to have lower levels of reducing sugars and of asparagine, an amino acid found naturally in potatoes that reacts with these sugars via the Maillard reaction when products are fried, baked or roasted to produce acrylamide, a suspected carcinogen. 

*In a major report on ag biotech (p18) in 2010, the European Commission​ noted: “The main conclusion to be drawn from the efforts of more than 130 research projects, covering a period of more than 25 years of research and involving more than 500 independent research groups, is that biotechnology, and in particular GMOs, are not per se more risky than conventional plant breeding technologies.”

Two years later, the American Association for the Advancement of Science​ concluded that “the science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe”. 

The same year, the American Medical Association​ (which has called for mandatory pre-market safety testing of GE foods) added: “The FDA’s science-based labeling policies do not support special labeling without evidence of material differences between bio-engineered foods and their traditional counterparts. The Council supports this science-based approach.”

The WHO​, the Royal Society​ in London, and the National Academy of Sciences​ (which points out that all foods, genetically engineered or otherwise, carry potentially hazardous substances or pathogenic microbes and must be assessed to ensure a reasonable degree of safety), all agree.


Interested in finding out more about what going non-GMO means for your business?​ Register FREE for FoodNavigator-USA’s Going Non-GMO online forum.​ 

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GMO ambiguity

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"Although every major scientific and regulatory body has concluded that foods from approved GM crops are safe for human consumption...."
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