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Monday, May 4, 2015

What we can learn from a burrito-maker

If you hadn't heard the news, Chipotle, the burrito chain, has declared that it'll be "GMO-free". While some are celebrating at this bold marketing move, others have accurately pointed out that this company capitalizing on anti-science hysteria. It's not really a surprise: Chipotle's demonization of industrial agriculture as a marketing stance is old news. GMOs just happen to be the convenient scapegoat.

And to be fair - Chipotle is perfectly within its rights to change their ingredient sourcing. They can certainly adopt these arbitrary production practices - efficient or otherwise - to cater to the whims of their customer base (while simultaneously creating a cultural divide). Despite what some entitled folks may think: Chipotle burritos are not an essential food group.

But what we can learn here is the tricky burden of carrying a label. One of more commonly used bromides used by the "Just Label It" campaign to get legally mandated labeling of foods containing genetically modified ingredients is that it's cheap. Just a label. Why fight it?

Well, had that law been passed, could Chipotle declare itself "GMO-free"? As many point out, the chain is keeping high fructose corn syrup sweetened sodas and standard cheese - which are products of the transgenic technology. The hypocrisy can exist because we aren't invested in an infrastructure to inspect for this - that'd be a waste of taxpayer money. As the question isn't something that is chemically detectible at the end - glucose is glucose whether is degraded from sugar cane or Bt corn - then it's the process that is in question. And monitoring that isn't easy. Try earning a kosher label. Moreover, as with any law, we should consider what penalties are in store for violators.

Arguably, Chipotle is violating truth in advertising laws, but we have bigger problems to deal with. And if you don't understand why sensible people are fighting against mandatory labeling laws (note, not "against labeling" per se, as it is often shortened to), then this is an example that illustrates the bureaucratic madness such laws portend. And "Certified Organic" is a big enough waste of money and time.