A California woman filed a lawsuit last week charging Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. with making false and misleading claims by saying its menu is free of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.
In a complaint filed Aug. 28 in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, Colleen Gallagher filed on behalf of all California consumers who bought food from Chipotle April 27 to the present. She is represented by law firm Kaplan Fox & Kilsheimer LLP in San Francisco, which is seeking class-action status for the case.
In April, Chipotle launched a multimedia campaign pronouncing its menu free of GMOs at U.S. locations. The Denver-based fast-casual chain had been moving toward that goal for over two years, citing concerns about the way GMO crops are cultivated, and noting that GMOs are banned or restricted in many other countries.
“It’s clear that a lot of research is still needed before we can truly understand all the implications of widespread GMO cultivation and consumption,” Chipotle co-CEO Steve Ells said at the time. “While that debate continues, we decided to move to non-GMO ingredients.”
In the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified monetary damages, Gallagher argues that Chipotle’s claims are false and misleading because the chain continues to serve meat from animals that feed on GMOs, including soy and corn, and that Chipotle’s sour cream and cheese come from dairy farms that feed animals with GMOs.
Chipotle also sells soft drinks that are made with corn syrup, which is a genetically modified ingredient, the lawsuit claims.
“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,” said Laurence King, an attorney for the proposed class. “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.”
Chris Arnold, Chipotle communications director, said the company does not discuss pending legal actions as a matter of policy. However, he added, “We do plan to contest this.”
As part of the April announcement, Chipotle said, and continues to say on its website, that most animal feed in the U.S. is genetically modified, which means the meat and dairy served at Chipotle came from animals that were given at least some GMO feed.
“We are working hard on this challenge, and have made substantial progress: for example, the 100-percent grass-fed beef served in many Chipotle restaurants was not fed GMO grain — or any grain, for that matter,” the company states on its website.
“Many of the beverages sold in our restaurants contain genetically modified ingredients, including those containing high-fructose corn syrup, which is almost always made from GMO corn,” the company states.
The lawsuit, however, charges that Chipotle “takes no meaningful steps to clarify consumer misconceptions in its advertisements and its billboards, both in stores and in print, which instead say ‘all’ of the ingredients used in its food products are ‘non-GMO,’” the complaint said. “A Chipotle meal was, and remains, the very definition of a GMO meal.”
The complaint cites violations of the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act, the California False Advertising Law, and the California Unfair Competition Law.