Opinion

Profiting from ignorance

Chipotle’s decision to stop serving GMOs is socially irresponsible

By now many of us have heard that America’s favorite “fast casual restaurant” — Chipotle “Mexican” Grill — has gone GMO-free. Although Chipotle’s decision represents the singular action of a private company, it still speaks to the increasing success of the anti-GMO movement. And while private companies have every right to decide what products they sell, Chipotle’s decision to pander to the anti-GMO movement is dangerous and irresponsible.

Chipotle’s website offers three reasons for its decision to stop using GMO ingredients. The first reason suggests that there is no scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs. In fact, the American Medical Association, National Academy of Sciences, World Health Organization, and European Commission have all found GMOs to be safe. A recent meta-study of 1,783 studies on GMOs concluded that “the scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of GE [GMO] crops.”

The company’s second claim is that GMOs damage the environment. It cites a single study in support of this claim and conveniently ignores the fact that it was authored by Charles Benbrook, a consultant for The Organic Center. In his study, Benbrook uses data that does not distinguish between pesticide use on GMO vs. non-GMO crops. He deliberately ignores complete data sets and makes wild extrapolations from short-term trends. In fact, a 2014 meta-analysis published in PLOS ONE concluded that GMOs have increased crop yields by 22 percent while reducing chemical pesticide usage by 37 percent. GMOs can also generally be grown on less land with less tillage, reducing water use and greenhouse gas emissions.

Chipotle’s third reason for going GMO-free is the only honest one, having to do with expanding its customer base and improving its bottom line. The company acknowledges that it “decided to remove … GMOs … so that our customers who choose to avoid them can enjoy eating at Chipotle.” The chain knows that its claims about the safety of GMOs are misleading — NPR quoted a Chipotle spokesperson saying, “we didn’t say we were doing this because we think GMO foods are not healthy” — but that knowledge has not stopped Chipotle from attempting to profit off of erroneous beliefs.

Financially speaking, Chipotle’s decision is probably wise. A 2014 ABC poll found that 52 percent of Americans believe GMOs are unsafe. By removing GMOs from its restaurants, Chipotle will become more accessible to the general public while distinguishing itself from struggling fast food chains like McDonald’s.

Chipotle is not the first company to capitalize on health-related paranoia, either. Whole Foods is another successful example. To be clear, I fully support these companies’ rights to stop using GMOs. That does not mean, however, that I support their decisions to exercise that right. Chipotle’s decision may be financially prudent, but it is socially irresponsible.

When people speak about corporate responsibility, they generally mean that businesses should work on behalf of society as a whole rather than simply on behalf of shareholders. Even if Chipotle is responding to the public’s demand for GMO-free fast food, a shunning of GMO products is not in the public’s long-term interest. The scientific literature shows not only that GMOs are safe for humans and the environment, but that they actually allow us to produce more food with less environmental impact. And although a 2015 survey from Oklahoma State University found that 82 percent of American support mandatory labeling of GMO products, it also found that 80 percent of Americans support mandatory labeling for foods containing DNA. Companies that try to boost profits by perpetuating scientific ignorance deserve reproach.

As a person who values private enterprise, I fully support Chipotle’s right to stop serving GMOs. As a person who values integrity more than profitability, however, I should let Chipotle know that it won’t be serving me.

Collin Vierra is a member of the Class of 2015.

5 Comments
1
Freedom almost 3 years ago

Looks like you're less intelligent than the majority of Americans, since you're not able to understand that making evolution go thousands of times faster than nature intended may have disastrous effects on the sustainability of local agriculture, which occurs in a biosphere that we will never fully understand.

The argument that GMO foods can be slightly more efficient than non-GMO ones is a very bad argument. The same argument would imply that someone should put all their money in the stock market since it has had a historically larger return than cash. And that's a terrible idea!

Look, math and physics might be pretty reliable, but you need to start being more skeptical about social science. For instance: Fat and cholesterol being bad turned out to be myth. Grains being good turned out to be a myth. In both of those cases, I would tell people that they were myths and they would get angry at me because they place too much trust in scientists, who will often overstate their conclusions.

2
RAM almost 3 years ago

Chipotle can make its own business decisions. If they later feel better but profit less, they can readjust the menu as they wish.

3
Anonymous almost 3 years ago

I was also bothered by Chipotle's endorsement of the anti-GMO movement, and I'm glad to see a well-written article criticizing the decision.

Humans have been "genetically modifying" plants and animals for thousands of years through selective breeding. For example, the Mesoamericans effectively created modern maize from a useless weed called teosinte. Few people attack selective breeding, and for good reason. Yet, compared to long-term selective breeding, modern genetic strategies make very minor genomic changes and are much more controlled because we intimately understand the genetics.

For example, the only difference between Roundup-Ready soybeans and "normal" soybeans is a single transgene that creates a second pathway for synthesis of certain amino acids. The herbicide glyphosate disables the WT pathway in most plants, so soybeans with this second pathway are able to survive glyphosate treatment. The transgenic enymze responsible, EPSPS, is a readily digestible protein and poses no risk at all whatsoever to human consumers. There is a mild risk of horizontal gene transfer in the long run (ie glyphosate-resistant weeds), but thats NOT a health concern, and those concerns are well-managed through techniques I dont have the time or space to discuss.

Most other GMOs are similar to Roundup-Ready soybeans, and anyone with a good understanding of molecular biology can tell you that the genetic modifications we've made to crops thus far are very minor, very controlled, and pose no risk to human consumers.

But most importantly, there are mountains of experimental studies that show all currently grown GMOs are safe; we DO have scientific consensus people! As a biologist, I honestly think the anti-GMO movement is about as well-founded scientifically as young Earth creationism, climate change denial, or vaccine scares.

In a world with an increasing population, widespread hunger, and no new farmland, GMOs are an important tool for increasing crop yields and keeping food prices in check. GM crops have come to dominate Western agriculture because they offer significant economic advantages with little risk (and NO health risks). GM crops are a feat of biology and should not be slandered by ignorant activists.

So to conclude, I realize that Chipotle is a profit-driven company and must makes decisions to maximize profits, but their decision to go GMO-free is, without a doubt, a fine example of ignorance and paranoia driving profit.

4
Freedom almost 3 years ago

Quote: " Yet, compared to long-term selective breeding, modern genetic strategies make very minor genomic changes and are much more controlled because we intimately understand the genetics. "

Long-term selective breeding is done via trial and error in a bottom up manner. Modern genetic strategies are qualitatively different. They're engineered top-down. Saying GMOs are safe just because something else turned out to be safe is a dishonest trick.

Quote: " the anti-GMO movement is about as well-founded scientifically as young Earth creationism, climate change denial, or vaccine scares. "

You may be a biologist on paper, but you have the rationality level of an elementary schooler.

(By the way, you love sockpuppetting conservatives. First, young Earth is generally understood as a metaphor, not verifiable truth by Christians. Just because some of the metaphors in a great book aren't literally true doesn't mean the story isn't important. Second, most climate change skeptics rightly think global warming hysteria was exaggerated. And indeed it was: most models were exaggerated by scientists trying to publish papers and push their narratives, so they've changed global warming to climate change. Measurements were exaggerated and models were oversimplified. We've had a lot of cold winters and we will continue having a lot of cold winters. Third, vaccines do cause problems for people and do have health risks. Some vaccines are bad and people are right to be careful of them.)

Quote: " anyone with a good understanding of molecular biology can tell you that the genetic modifications we've made to crops thus far are very minor, very controlled, and pose no risk to human consumers. "

Anyone with a good understand of government can tell you that Communism will lead to utopia not mass murders and mass starvation. Anyone with a good understand of cars can tell you this here car is in perfect shape and is worth thirty thousand dollars.

Quote: " In a world with an increasing population, widespread hunger, and no new farmland, GMOs are an important tool for increasing crop yields and keeping food prices in check. "

Cry more, you rich first worlder.

Quote: " without a doubt, a fine example of ignorance and paranoia driving profit. "

You are the ignorant one.

I hate Millennials.

5
Freedom almost 3 years ago

Liberal college students with "science" degrees: "97 percent concensus that global warming is being caused by humans (and is getting worse)!"

Peer-reviewed science: "inspection of a claim by Cook et al (Environ Res Lett 8:024024, 2013) of 97.1 percent consensus, heavily relied upon by Bedford and Cook, shows just 0.3 percent endorsement of the standard definition of consensus: that most warming since 1950 is anthropogenic." http://wmbriggs.com/public/Legates.etal.2015.pdf

Historians on Climategate: "Your entire system of government is incurably insane." http://unqualified-reservations.blogspot.com/2009/12/climategate-historys-message.html

Liberal college students with "science" degrees: " there are mountains of experimental studies that show all currently grown GMOs are safe; we DO have scientific consensus people! "

Show me, you GMO ideologue. I found this after a Google search:

Peer-reviewed science: " A broad community of independent scientific researchers and scholars challenges recent claims of a consensus over the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). In the following joint statement, the claimed consensus is shown to be an artificial construct that has been falsely perpetuated through diverse fora. "

The people profiting from ignorance are big agricultural companies and their lobbyists, not Chipotle.

How you are stupid enough to buy lowbrow claims of "consensus" boggles the mind.