Diners at Chipotle Mexican Grill can now rest assured that their burritos are free from any ingredients that have been genetically altered, as the chain has eliminated all genetically modified organisms (GMOs) from its menu, the company announced Monday. For the fast casual restaurant chain, the new policy was the culmination of a yearslong effort to appease consumers who are increasingly wary of, and even opposed to, genetically modified foods.
Although scientists generally agree that GMOs are safe for human consumption, the public tends to believe otherwise. That sentiment has driven an increase in demand for GMO-free foods -- and, subsequently, for the labeling of foods that have not been genetically modified. In 2013, Chipotle began identifying menu items containing genetically modified ingredients, including, at the time, all of its tortillas and rice. It was the first major restaurant chain to do so.
That move, and Monday's announcement, reflect the way demand for genetically unaltered foods has soared in recent years. Consumer Reports says that, in 2013, sales of products with non-GMO labeling rose by 80 percent, while 92 percent of Americans think that if a food contained genetically modified ingredients or was itself genetically modified, it should be labeled.
Nevertheless, GMOs are nearly ubiquitous in the U.S. food supply. About 80 percent of food consumed in the country is genetically modified, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says. In addition, 90 percent of corn and soybean in America is genetically modified, and these crops are frequently used to feed livestock, NPR has reported.
So despite Monday’s announcement that its oils, flours and other key ingredients would not be sourced from genetically modified crops, Chipotle’s burritos and tacos still may not be totally free of GMOs. “It is important to note 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,” the company noted on its website. “We are working hard on this challenge, and have made substantial progress,” it added, such as by using purely grass-fed beef.
Steve Ells, chairman and co-CEO of Chipotle, told CNNMoney that the switch to non-GMO ingredients wouldn’t increase menu prices. Still, the chain might be forced to increase some prices slightly this year, given the rising cost of beef. In New York City, a basic chicken burrito sells for more than $8.