In the Chipotle Periodic Table of Ingredients, the radioactive elements are H, P and G. Those are the letters in the restaurant chain’s new labeling scheme that denote ingredients that contain hydrogenated oils, preservatives and—here’s the big one—genetically modified organisms.
Chipotle quietly began labeling ingredients on its website back in March, making it the first chain restaurant to voluntarily disclose GMO foods. In a story published yesterday by Bloomberg Businessweek, which brought news about the labeling to a broader audience, Justin Bachman writes, “There are no plans to post the data on the menu boards in restaurants because of the boards’ ‘limited real estate,’ ” Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold says.”
On its Ingredients Statement page, Chipotle leads with the good stuff, because, “there’s lots to be proud of” when it comes to its raw materials: Local, Responsibly Raised Meats, Organic, Pasture-Raised Dairy. And then comes the caveat, those three areas where there’s “room for improvement.”
But Chipotle plays it cool in its definition of GMOs, which reads, “The WHO (that’s the World Health Organization, not the seminal British rock band) defines Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) as ‘organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur in nature.’ ” That’s a pretty straightforward classification, unlike some of the shiftier terms thrown around, like “pasture-raised.”
And which menu items do those DNA altered ingredients touch? More than you might expect, considering Chipotle’s reputation. The tortillas, fajita vegetables, white and brown rice, chipotle-honey vinaigrette, chicken and beef all contain GMOs. Interestingly, the pork carnitas is not marked with a G.
The chain’s move away from soybean oil, the ingredient that gives the fajita vegetables its G, will help to cut some GMOs from the menu, but according to the Bloomberg story, don’t expect a transgene-free Chipotle: “Our food system is so dominated by these big industrial food producers,” Arnold says, making it nearly impossible to go GMO-free at the scale on which the chain operates.
Vani Hari, who blogs at Food Babe, has been pushing Chipotle to label its menu items since last year. She tells TakePart, “For a company with the tag line ‘Food With Integrity’ it’s so important to be transparent, and I applaud Chipotle in their decision to not only include the full ingredient list but to take it a step further and include GMO information.” As for GMOs prevalence across the menu, Hari has an idea of what concerned diners might be eating now: “I see a lot of people going for a taco salad with beans or carnitas and leaving the corn and other GMO contaminated menu items alone.”