Thought Catalog
May 8, 2015

Breaking Down How Chipotle’s GMO-Free Initiative Is Pretty Much A Pure Publicity Stunt

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What is the issue?

Last week, Chipotle announced that they would no longer be using GMOs in their food.

Chipotle
Source: Chipotle

GMOs are Genetically Modified Organisms – organisms whose genetic material has been altered. GMOs can be used to introduce new traits—such as the ability to repel pests—to common food crops.

Jon Bunting
Source: Jon Bunting

In their announcement, Chipotle said they were discontinuing GMOs because “scientists are still studying the long-term implications of GMOs,” and “the cultivation of GMOs can damage the environment.”

A look at who has said GMOs are safe, however, doesn’t support this claim at all. Numerous authoritative scientific and medical associations have, based on decades-long studies, not found GMOs to be harmful to human or animal life.

A genetically modified papaya. // Public domain
A genetically modified papaya. // Public domain

For example, a team of Italian scientists summarized the research of over 1,700 independent studies that spanned a decade (a third of the time we’ve been using GMOs) and weren’t able to find a single instance of anyone demonstrating that GMOs are harmful to humans or animals.

There are two major concerns with GMOs—they’re harmful to human and animal life, and they’re harmful to the environment.

One concern about GMOs being harmful to humans and animals is that GMOs introduce allergens or toxins to the food we eat. The other concern is about the potential harmful effects of ingesting transgenic DNA—the modified DNA of the GMO food crop.

DNA // Source: Richard Wheeler
DNA // Source: Richard Wheeler

But these concerns ignore the fact that we already consume up to a gram of DNA a day, which is almost entirely broken down by either food processing or your digestive tract. And the Italian research wasn’t able to locate any evidence that GMOs and their transgenic DNA aren’t treated by our bodies the same way, or are harmful to us.

The concern about GMOs in the environment is that GMO plants “contaminate” the surrounding area by mixing with other plants. While the Italian researchers say this gene flow has been observed with GMOs—and could use more study—gene flow (“mixing”) is not particular to GMO plants. Gene flow is commonly seen in the wild and in non-GMO crops. The researchers concluded that there is “little to no evidence” of GMOs having a negative impact on the environment.

Corn, maybe genetically modified? // Source: E. Dronkert
Corn, maybe genetically modified? // Source: E. Dronkert

The 1,700+ independent studies that say GMOs are safe are widely available to the public—let alone food scientists employed by Chipotle. So why would Chipotle knowingly make such a big deal out of GMOs, ban them from their restaurants, and loudly publicize the ban?

Why would Chipotle ignore the 2003 review of 50 independent and authoritative studies done by the International Council for Science — a “nongovernmental body representing more than 100 national science academies and dozens of international scientific unions?”

icsu.org
icsu.org

Why would Chipotle ignore the findings of the following major scientific and medical organizations, who have all found GMOs to be safe: the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the European Commission, the U.S. National Academies of Science, and the American Medical Association?

Source: World Health Organization
Source: World Health Organization

How could they overlook the fact that a PEW poll found that 88% of scientists from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) believe that GMOs are safe?

Because it makes sense financially—the majority of Americans are now afraid of GMOs.

A recent LA Times op-ed cites a poll that shows that only a third of Americans believe GMOs are safe to eat; “60% say they’d be less likely to buy foods labeled as genetically modified.”

The same Pew poll that found that while 88% of AAAS scientists believe that GMO food is safe, only 37% of US adults (who aren’t scientists) believe that GMOs are safe to eat.

People believe a lot of other dumb stuff that scientists don't, too. Surprise!
People believe a lot of other dumb stuff that scientists don’t, too. Surprise! // Pew Research Center

Pew also found that 67% of US adults don’t believe that scientists understand GMOs enough to conclude that they are safe.

Pew Research Center
Pew Research Center

On top of all that, Science Babe and crew allege that Chipotle’s new oil substitute—which they are switching to as a result of their GMO-free promise—is produced via “a fairly hazardous production method in the name of avoiding the GMO title”, one that uses “a possibly carcinogenic compound that produces random mutations in DNA.”

Source: Gawker
Source: Gawker

They also say that GMOs reduce “chemical pesticide use by 37% and increased crop production by 22%…[f]armers can spend less and use a lower amount of safer types of pesticides.”

Chow Babe, via Science Babe
Chow Babe, via Science Babe

So, while heart disease is the leading cause of death – which can be a result of obesity, high cholesterol, and poor diet – and there are a whole lot of experts that say that GMOs are fine (and many who say they reduce agriculture’s impact on the environment!), Chipotle is squarely focused on tackling our health and environmental issues in the most ineffective way possible: by removing harmless ingredients from its 1,000+ calorie burritos. TC mark

Critical Moss
Critical Moss