Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. has finished removing genetically modified ingredients from its menu, according to reports, making the restaurant the first major food chain to make the step amid growing concerns about the safety of the agricultural technology to American consumers.
Steve Ells, founder and co-chief executive of Chipotle, said that the company's decision was part of their vision to change how people think about fast food.
"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," Ells said.
Chipotle became the first food company to specify which items in their menu contained genetically modified organisms (GMO) ingredients in 2013. Other restaurants, mostly in fine dining, soon followed Chipotle's lead and began labeling their menus as well.
Several grocers have also started offering non-GMo ingredients to their customers. Whole Foods stores will finish removing genetically altered products from their shelves and cases by 2018, while Walmart will expand its selection of full organic products.
It remains uncertain, however, if other major fast food chains in the country will follow Chipotle's example. The demand for ingredients without GMO has made it more difficult and more expensive for larger food companies to meet their needs.
Nicole Bernard Dawes, founder and CEO of Late July Snacks, pointed out the challenge for food companies when it comes to shortage in their supplies.
"Say that to live up to the promise of being non-GMO, you need a non-GMO ingredient that accounts for just 1 percent of your formula," Dawes said. "If you have a supply shortage in that ingredient, you can't produce your product."
Removing genetically modified components from food products remains a challenge as they are often included in ingredients such as baking powder, cornstarch, and other food preservatives. They are also added in commodities such as corn meal, sugar, and soy and canola oils.
Chipotle has experienced shortage in their supplies of beef, and in December, the Mexican food company announced that it will not be able to supply all of their chains with pork for carnitas after discovering one of its suppliers did not meet its standards for raising pigs. The shortage has begun affecting the restaurant's sales.
"We're working with our farmers to plan enough of these crops we need to meet our supply," Ells said. "With pork, it's harder because we only need one part of the animal, the shoulder, and the farmer needs to sell the whole animal to make it work."
Photo: Mike Mozart | Flickr