Chipotle sued over GMO-free menu claims

1 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Chipotle Customer Files Class-Action Lawsuit Over Restaurant’s Alleged GMO Claims.

Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc’s new GMO-free menu claims have lured diners and boosted the burrito chain’s stock price, but it has some consumers crying foul. The first chain restaurant to declare its menu free of genetically engineered ingredients still serves items that are either made with or raised on modified crops. A California woman has accused the popular chain in a lawsuit of false advertising after it trumpeted on April 27 that it was the first national restaurant company to use only ingredients that are free of controversial genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

In her lawsuit filed Friday in federal court in San Francisco, the plaintiff Colleen Gallagher also alleged that Chipotle violated the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act because its food labeling is false and misleading, and deceived diners into paying more for their food. “As Chipotle told consumers it was ‘G-M-Over it,’ the opposite was true,” the Piedmont, California resident said. “In fact, Chipotle’s menu as never been at any time free of GMOs.” Many U.S. diners have in surveys expressed a willingness to pay a premium price for food they perceive to be less processed and more natural or organic, and retail data back that up. Specifically, the complaint alleges that Chipotle has marketed its “Food With Integrity” brand to healthy-lifestyle and environmentally conscious consumers who are willing to pay premium prices for food that aligns with the consumers’ ethical eating choices.

The company previously issued a disclaimer advising that there’s not much it can do about genetically modified feed given to animals used it their food. However, if you stray from eating vegan or drink a soda, then you will either be eating foods that came from animals raised on GMO feed or consuming GMOs directly in the form of high-fructose corn syrup. District Court, Northern District of California, Colleen Gallagher filed on behalf of all California consumers who bought food from Chipotle April 27 to the present.

Those disclaimers say that “most animal feed in the U.S. is genetically modified, which means that the meat and dairy served at Chipotle are likely to come from animals given at least some GMO feed.” They add that “many of the beverages sold in our restaurants contain genetically modified ingredients.” A woman named Colleen Gallagher, represented by the same law firm, is also a plaintiff in a 2014 lawsuit in the same court alleging that Bayer AG’s claims about the health benefits of its One A Day multivitamins misled consumers. Refinery29 reached out to Chipotle for comment received the following response from its communications director: “Generally speaking, we do not discuss details of pending legal action, though we do plan to contest this,” stated Chris Arnold. The language of the lawsuit seems to push the issue beyond credible labeling and into a critique of brands capitalizing on consumer fears through greenwashing. “The potential health impact of GMOs has been the subject of much scrutiny and debate within the food and science industries, but Chipotle knows customers attach an unhealthy, negative perception towards them,” the suit reads, alleging that the chain attempted to capitalize on squishy consumer sentiment. From eschewing antibiotics and harsh confinement practices for the animals that supply its meat to sourcing many ingredients from local farms, Chipotle has long trumpeted ethical food practices as part of its brand—but it hasn’t issued a detailed response to the lawsuit’s many claims. This is major news for the quick-service restaurant world: The announcement makes Chipotle the first-ever large-scale fast food establishment to offer a completely GMO-free menu. “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 founder and co-chief executive Steve Ells told the The New York Times.

But unlike many companies trying to appeal to shoppers who would rather not eat GMOs, Chipotle hasn’t sought out any kind of third-party verification. The lawsuit, however, charges that Chipotle “takes no meaningful steps to clarify consumer misconceptions in its advertisements and its billboards, both in stores and in print, which instead say ‘all’ of the ingredients used in its food products are ‘non-GMO,’” the complaint said. “A Chipotle meal was, and remains, the very definition of a GMO meal.” The complaint cites violations of the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act, the California False Advertising Law, and the California Unfair Competition Law. For more information about the case, to review a copy of the Complaint filed in this action, or for more information about Kaplan Fox, you may contact the attorneys that filed this lawsuit: To view the original version on PR Newswire, visit: Packaged food companies hoping to cater to consumers who would like to avoid GMOs have opted either to certify products as organic with the USDA—which, among other things, means they cannot contain genetically engineered ingredients—or met third-party standards established by private labeling efforts like the Non-GMO Project. Since then, the company has been working to make major changes concerning the sourcing of those ingredients, most notably of its corn and soybean oil.

While Whole Foods became the country’s first certified-organic grocery store in 2003, that standard, set by Quality Assurance International, still allows the chain to sell an array of nonorganic and genetically engineered products. Chipotle got corn suppliers to plant non-GMO specifically for its corn tortillas, and the chain has ultimately been able to switch to non-GMO sunflower oil. The brand released a thorough explanation on its website (complete with infographics!) stating the three main reasons for the switch: unclear findings on the longterm effects of GMOs, the negative impact GMOs can have on the environment, and a desire to stay aligned with the shifting food-related standards of its consumers. While personally I’m glad to see that Chipotle is focused on keeping its customers happy, I have to admit, one of my first concerns was for burrito prices! As if the chain’s latest announcement wasn’t big enough, Chipotle also stated in its press release that it intends to remove the last few remaining artificial ingredients from its tortillas, too.

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