Much has been written on Chipotle’s decision to remove ingredients from their menu that originated from biotech crops (GMOs). In the end of course this is their business, and they certainly have the right to cater to any faith based diet they see fit. The problem that arises in their attempt to explain themselves is that they are essentially telling people not to eat at their own restaurants.
Artificial selection alters the genetic makeup of plants and animals to exhibit traits that are not naturally theirs, involving the selection of traits that are beneficial to humans and not what helps the organism survive in nature. Mutagenesis involves the application of chemicals and/or radiation to speed up this process. Neither of these breeding methods results in an organism that would have occurred naturally. Both artificial selection and mutagenesis are used to create herbicide resistance in crops and crops with increased insecticide traits. Transfer of DNA from bacteria can even occur naturally, as is the case of the sweet potato.
Biotech crops are simply the most studied food in all of human history. There are countless studies confirming their safety, and many of them are from independent scientists. Biofortified keeps a large database of them here. New crops developed through artificial selection and mutagenesis are not studied to this extent because they do not face the same regulatory hurdles, even though they can create similar traits. Unlike biotech crops, artificial selection leads to undesired and harmful outcomes such as rapist roosters, toxic organic zucchini, and the loss of nutrition
The sunflower oil used by Chipotle comes from herbicide tolerant sunflowers created to work with BASF’s herbicide containing imazamox. A farmer in Kansas noticed that wild sunflowers had grown resistant to the imazamox being sprayed in a soybean field. Samples were collected by a Kansas University scientist, and the benefit to sunflower farmers quickly became apparent. Mutagenesis was used to speed up the process in domesticated sunflowers. Cross pollination with wild weed species is a much larger concern because these sunflowers have a lot more in common with their wild relatives than corn and soy. Imazamox has led to the development of more “super weeds” than glyphosate. It assumed that the insect populations Chipotle mentions is the monarch butterfly because glyphosate kills milkweed, which the monarch relies on. What Chipotle fails to realize is that no farmer is going to just let milkweed grow and kill their crops. Glyphosate kills milkweed. Imazamox kills milkweed. Organic herbicides kill milkweed. Hand pulling and flame weeding kill milkweed. Pesticide use in the United States has remained level over the past two decades even while yield has skyrocketed.
The anti-biotechnology movement jumped for joy when International Agency for Research on Cancer, one part of the World Health Organization, announced that glyphosate would be ranked as a level 2A carcinogen. A lot has been written on the topic since then. The only people who should be concerned are the farmers using the product, and they don’t seem to be. That still didn’t stop Chipotle from jumping on the anti biotechnology bandwagon to scream about how the barely detectable residue that may remain on some crops are somehow more dangerous than the emissions from high-temperature frying actually done at the restaurant, and have the same ranking. Even more troubling for Chipotle customers reading their web site is the fact that pork and beef have also recently been given the same ranking. Unlike glyphosate, these ingredients are actually consumed.
Chipotle seems to truly believe that artificial selection, pesticide traits, bacterial DNA, a lack of safety studies, the creation of super-weeds, the killing of milkweed, and anything ranked as a probable carcinogen by the IARC in food production should be avoided. Any customer who agrees with Chipotle should clearly not be eating at Chipotle where all of those things still occur.
In the meantime, join Americans For Science in asking Chipotle to be consistent in their marketing and ingredient choices. Sign our petition and tell Steve Ellis to remove pork and beef from their menu.