Chipotle Non-GMO Ads: Eatery Facing Class-Action Lawsuit Over Alleged ‘Deception’

Chipotle finds itself in a pickle. The Mexican-style causal restaurant chain is named as a defendant in a class action lawsuit over its “non-GMO” claims.

According to a PR Newswire report on September 1, Kaplan Fox & Kilsheimer, LLP filed a lawsuit for customers in San Francisco who visited Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., between April 27, 2015, and the present. Kaplan Fox is the lead co-counsel in the $2.43 billion settlement of securities class action against Bank of America.

Information contained in the complaint claims that Chipotle conducted ad and marketing campaigns that boasted about no longer containing genetically modified organisms in its product offerings. It also claims to be the first major food service company to remove GMOs from its menu. However, the lawsuit contends that several items on its menu directly or indirectly contain altered ingredients.

“Chipotle is on a never-ending journey to source the highest quality ingredients we can find. Over the years, as we have learned more about GMOs, we’ve decided that using them in our food doesn’t align with that vision. Chipotle was the first national restaurant company to disclose the GMO ingredients in our food, and now we are the first to cook only with non-GMO ingredients.”

A question appears on the company’s website that asks why did Chipotle decide to use non-GMO ingredients in all its food products. The burrito-maker posted a response and listed three key reasons why it adopted a non-genetically modified ingredients policy.

“As part of Chipotle’s commitment to serving Food With Integrity, we believe that the food we serve should be made with ingredients raised with care for animals, farmers, and the environment. We’re doubtful that the GMO ingredients that used to be in our food meet these criteria. Here are the three key reasons.”

In its FAQ section, Chipotle explains that while its primary products (corn in tortillas) and soy (cooking oil and flour tortillas) no longer contain GMOs, they cannot rule out that animals (chicken, pigs, cows) consumed GMO feed. Additionally, it also admits its sodas contain high fructose corn syrup, or HFCS (a known GMO).

Chipotle fired back at the lawsuit. In a post on Ad Age, company spokesperson Chris Arnold dismissed the claims and said the company would fight the legal action.

“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.”

The class action lawsuit is titled Gallagher v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., No. 15-cv-03952. It is currently pending in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, according to documents.

For more information about non-GMO foods, visit Center for Food Safety.

[Photo by Joe Raedle / Getty Images]