Everyone Calls BS on Chipotle’s GMO Move

It was a cynical concession to the anti-science movement.

Chipotle made headlines at the beginning of the week for announcing that it would only sell food that is “free of genetically engineered ingredients” moving forward.

The news definitely won attention. Yet the media response has been overwhelmingly negative as nearly every subsequent article paints the move as a pure PR play designed to satiate a confused public.

From The Los Angeles Times:

“Chipotle’s announcement…is rooted either in ignorance or in crass profit-seeking at the expense of science.”

From Bloomberg View:

“Chipotle…has done nothing for the public good, and has only capitulated to anti-GMO fervor.”

From NPR:

“…Chipotle’s stance shows little integrity at all. Rather, it shows a double helping of marketing hype.”

From Christian Science Monitor:

“…Tyson’s announcement [that it will phase out antibiotics in chicken] is a far more impactful one for the food industry at large, both because of its sheer size and the scientific support for such a move.”

From New York magazine, which goes so far as to compare Chipotle’s move to similar pleas for attention from the likes of Jenny McCarthy:

“The burrito purveyor hasn’t suffered much backlash yet, but its new policy certainly represents the same sort of anti-science pandering that helps fuel the anti-vaccine and climate-change-denialism movements.”

They all have the same point: Chipotle’s food may be pure, but it’s not “healthy”–and this newest move is simply a concession to anti-science paranoia peddled by the likes of Food Babe and Dr. Oz.

The company’s founder Steve Ells effectively admitted as much to NPR’s “The Salt”:

There is no scientific evidence that GMOs pose a risk to health, as Chipotle founder and co-CEO Steve Ells readily acknowledges. “I don’t think this is about GMOs being harmful or not being harmful to your health,” Ells tells The Salt. “It’s a bigger picture. It’s really part of our food with integrity journey.”

Chipotle will obviously be fine, but it certainly sounds like Ells himself is a little uncomfortable with his company’s latest messaging push.

He may sell fast food “with integrity” that happens to be delicious, but he still sells fast food. Thankfully, critics all reminded us of that fact this week.

@PatrickCoffee patrick.coffee@adweek.com Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.