(Beyond Pesticides, April 28, 2015) Beginning this week, Chipotle Mexican Grill will stop serving food containing genetically engineered (GE) ingredients. The restaurantâs announcement is the first of any major fast food chain, and fits with the companyâs long-held mission of providing its customers âfood with integrity.â In 2013, Chipotle also became the first major restaurant chain to label foods it sold that contained GE ingredients, and in 2010 the company announced its support for organic production practices by increasing the percentage of organic ingredients it serves, and committing to eventually transition the entire menu to organic.
âJust because food is served fast doesnât mean it has to be made with cheap raw ingredients, highly processed with preservatives and fillers and stabilizers and artificial colors and flavors,â said Steve Ells, Chipotleâs founder and co-chief executive to The New York Times. Although the meat and dairy served at the chain will still come from animals fed GE grain, the company indicates it will continue to work on the issue. Over 90% of corn and soybeans grown in the United States are GE, making sourcing difficult for larger restaurants.
More and more retailers, from restaurants to the grocery aisle, are eliminating foods produced though GE agriculture, a method of food production used primarily to genetically alter crops to withstand repeated herbicide applications or produce its own insecticide. Last year, General Mills agreed to remove GE ingredients from its flagship Cheerios cereal, and last month Herseyâs announced it would stop using GE sugar beets in the production of its milk chocolate bars and âkisses.â These campaigns were led by GMO Inside, which is currently encouraging Starbucks to source organic milk at its stores.
In the wake of the International Agency for Research on Cancerâs determination that glyphosate is a human carcinogen based upon laboratory animal test data, consumers are becoming increasingly wary of GE crops reliant on the chemical, and formulations mixed with even more toxic herbicides such as 2,4-D. Last year the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency increased the allowable levels of glyphosate on food products sold in the states. A study released early last year found that GE âRoundup Readyâ soybeans retained glyphosate residues at higher levels than conventionally produced soy.
Despite the growing call for the elimination of glyphosate-laced GE products in our food supply, or transparency when it is present in our food, chemical and grocery manufacturers have worked in tandem to deny Americanâs the right to know. Money poured in from these vested interests to defeat labeling initiatives in California, Washington State, Oregon, and Colorado. However, last year Vermontâs legislature voted to become the first state to require labels on GE products by 2016. Despite a court challenge from the Grocery Manufacturerâs Association, Vermont has moved forward with its law, releasing a draft of the proposed GE labeling rule late last year.
At the federal level, a mandatory GE labeling bill, the Genetically Engineered Food Right-to-Know Act, S. 809Â and H.R. 1699, introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Representative Peter Defazio (D-OR) has languished without a vote since 2013, but was reintroduced this February to applause from consumer and environmental groups, as well as renowned chefs like Tom Colicchio. Over 700 high-profile chefs from throughout the country joined together last year to promote the Right-to-Know Act, and speak out against HR 4432, dubbed the dubbed the âDeny Americans the Right-to-Know Actâ (DARK Act) by activists, as it would give full authority of GE labeling to FDA, which currently favors a voluntary approach to the issue.
The wave of marketplace transitions towards food produced with safer practices is a sign of the growing power of consumers and the food movement to protect not only human health, but the health of farmworkers that grow the food we eat, and pollinators and other wildlife that may be impacted in the course of its production. Beyond Pesticides has long sought for a broad-scale marketplace transition to organic practices that disallow the use of GE crops and toxic synthetic pesticides and fertilizers by law. The Eating with a Conscience database developed by Beyond Pesticides shows consumers not only the pesticides that may be present on the food you eat, but the impacts food cultivation can have on farmworkers and the wider environment. Although non-GE crops are a step forward, ultimately the widespread adoption of organic agriculture is necessary to protect consumers and the environment in the long-term.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.