So much for food with integrity.
Less than two months after Chipotle came under fire for reversing its decision on antibiotics use in livestock, shunning American pork producers for a UK-based supplier instead, the popular Mexican restaurant is at the center of controversy yet again.
This time, Chipotle finds itself facing a lawsuit alleging it misled customers with false claims following its decision to go "GMO-free."
In April, the restaurant announced that nothing served to its customers would contain genetically altered ingredients. Some claimed it would be a so-called "game changer."
Steve Ellis, founder and CEO of Chipotle, told the New York Times, "Just because food is served fast doesn't mean it has to be made with cheap raw ingredients, highly processed with preservatives and fillers and stabilizers and artificial colors and flavors."
Needless to say, the move didn"t receive the standing ovation Chipotle anticipated.
Even Mother Jones questioned the move, pointing out that Chipotle"s announcement was simply to highlight its switch to non-GMO corn and soybean oil. It still serves meat from animals raised on GMO feed, uses sour cream and cheese ingredients sourced from dairy farms that also utilize GMO feed, and soda served in its stores still are made with GMO ingredients.
Headed to Court
Earlier this week, the law firm Kaplan Fox & Kilsheimer, LLP, announced it had filed a lawsuit against Chipotle on behalf on "all California consumers" who purchased food from the restaurant since it made its GMO-free marking push earlier this year.
"Consumers today are very concerned about what they eat, and restaurants know that consumers place a premium on food that is considered to be healthy or natural," Laurence D. King, an attorney for the proposed class, said in a news release. "As a result, Chipotle"s advertising in its stores should have accurately informed customers about the source and quality of its ingredients and should not mislead consumers that they are serving food without GMOs when in fact they are."
According to the law firm, this complaint alleges Chipotle violated the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act, the California False Advertising Law, and the California Unfair Competition Law. Click here to read more.
Chipotle Fires Back
Chipotle, being Chipotle, didn"t back down from their claims. Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold went so far to say the chain would "vigorously defend" itself in the courtroom.
He told AdAge, "This lawsuit is meritless, and the complaint against Chipotle is filled with inaccuracies. Chipotle has always been honest and transparent with its customers, and the messaging surrounding our use of non-GMO ingredients is no exception. For instance, we have always been clear that our soft drinks contained GMO ingredients, and that the animals from which our meat comes consume GMO feed. But, that does not mean that our meat is GMO, any more than people would be genetically modified if they ate GMO foods. We have not done any television advertising concerning GMOs at all, and the lawsuit blames us for graphics that we did not create or authorize. As we have said, it remains true that all of the ingredients we use to make our food are non-GMO. We will vigorously defend this meritless and unfair claim."
Looking at Chipotle"s Facebook page, here are what a few of its "fans" had to say:
- "Curious what CHIPOTLE'S RESPONSE IS. I was so proud of you as a company. This has caused you to fall from that praise in my eyes. What else should I now question? TRUST in your brand has been impacted by me now. I am disappointed."
- "The food is good, but if they lied or mislead people, that a not cool."
- "I was really disappointed after reading the article about how they lied to the customers about no longer using GMOs on food they serve and sell. I love chipotle, and honestly for them to falsely portray themselves highly upset me. I am a frequent eater here and I've had no complaints about the food nor the service until now."
- "They are banking on their advertising but then have disclaimers stating that they have GMOs in their food."
- "That's what fear mongering and misinformation gets you."