The American fast food company, Chipotle, has announced that it will eliminate genetically modified (GM) ingredients from much of its menu. Although its annoucement suggested it would eliminate GM food altogether, they will still be used in certain Chipotle products, such as soft drinks and dairy.
Since many of Chipotles ingredients are already non-GMO, its main task now is to meet supply needs with non-gmo versions of some main ingredients. For example, in meeting its oil needs, the chain have had to diversify into non-GMO sunflower oil and rice-bran oil instead of GMO rapeseed oil. Due to the extra cost of these ingredients, Chipotle has noted they may increase its prices this year.
Meanwhile, McDonalds has also announced that from 2016 it will begin to use 'verified sustainable beef' in its products.
These moves by Chipotle and McDonalds reflect the impact on fast food providers of growing interest in the ingredients, origin and sustainability of food products. They also suggest a continued willingness on the part of large corporations to respond to consumer pressures and take steps towards improvements in their ingredients, for a range of perceived reasons relating to health, animal welfare and environmental impact. Both companies have built a reputation for their willingness to address these issues. However, both companies have also been criticised for their attempts.
Chipotle was criticised for several reasons. Firstly, its initial announcement was seen by some as misleading, implying a complete elimination of GM ingredients, as opposed to a step in this direction. Some critics saw this as a move to gain publicity in a crowded and highly competitive sector. Secondly, Chipotle's focus on GM food was widely criticised for pandering to misconceived public concerns. The critics say concerns about GM food are scientifically unproven, and that GM food should be seen as one of several potential ways to improve global food security.
McDonalds was also criticised, mainly for the company's continued emphasis on beef products in its menus. Critics say beef production is particularly harmful to the environment, and McDonalds' announcement amounts to little more than tinkering.
Will the criticisms cause fast food companies to spend more time thinking slowly, to develop a greater understanding of the issues before responding to consumer pressure? Will we see fewer isolated announcements, and more long-term strategies in response to pressures on supply chains?
Chipotle (2015) Food with Integrity: G-M-Over it
New York Times (2015, April 26) Chipotle to Stop Using Genetically Altered Ingredients
NY mag (2015, April 30) Chipotle Is Promoting Opportunistic Anti-Science Hysteria
Business Insider (2015, May 5) Chipotle’s flashy ban on GMOs is totally backfiring
McDonalds (2015) Our journey to verified sustainable beef
The Guardian (2015, January 13) Will McDonald's ‘sustainable beef’ burgers really be any better?