Chipotle Feeds Anti-Scientific Derangement Syndrome, Says WaPo Columnist

Voluntary GMO labeling will express religious views and strictures much like halal and kosher labels do now.



Last week, I explained in my column, By Feeding Bogus GMO Fears, Chipotle Treats Customers Like Idiots, that while the company is certainly free to sell whatever it believes its customers want, the taco-peddling corporation is violating its own pledge to sell "food with integrity."

In today's Washington Post, columnist Michael Gerson makes some salient points about the responsibility of corporations not to propagandize pseudoscience:

This milestone in the history of fast-food scruples (and of advertising) is also a noteworthy cultural development: the systematic incorporation of anti-scientific attitudes into corporate branding strategies. There is no credible evidence that ingesting a plant that has been swiftly genetically modified in a lab has a different health outcome than ingesting a plant that has been slowly genetically modified through selective breeding. The National Academy of Sciences, the American Medical Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the World Health Organization have concluded that GMOs are safe to eat. …

Yet Whole Foods promises "full GMO transparency" by 2018. Its Web site emphasizes "your right to know." But you will search the site in vain for any explanation of how or why GMOs are harmful, because an actual assertion would not withstand scrutiny. Evidently your right to know does not include serious scientific arguments. Chipotle co-chief executive Steve Ells set out his rationale this way: "They say these ingredients are safe, but I think we all know we'd rather have food that doesn't contain them." …

But Chipotle, Whole Foods and those who follow their examples are doing real social harm. They are polluting public discourse on scientific matters. They are legitimizing an approach to science that elevates Internet medical diagnosis, social media technological consensus and discredited studies in obscure journals. They are contributing to a political atmosphere in which people pick their scientific views to fit their ideologies, predispositions and obsessions. And they are undermining public trust in legitimate scientific authority, which undermines the possibility of rational public policy on a range of issues.

Whatever the intention of those involved, embracing pseudoscience as the centerpiece of an advertising and branding effort is an act of corporate irresponsibility.


Although Whole Foods' "GMO transparency" effort also kowtows to pseudoscience, it is somewhat less objectionable because vendors using ingredients from biotech crops are still free to offer their products in Whole Foods stores. Keep in mind that Whole Foods still sells quack homeopathic (quack is a bit redundant here) remedies as well.

In any case, both the FDA and the USDA are developing non-disparaging voluntary labeling guidelines. Voluntary GMO labeling will express essentially religious views and strictures much like halal and kosher labels do now.

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  1. It’s the kind of marketing gimmick that appeals to the kids that think Chipotle is a Michelin-Star restaurant. Same goes for the organic label and most of the other promotional tricks that have little real meaning.

    1. As far as marketing gimmicks go, it seems really forced. When I go to Chipotle, most of the clientele seem like average youngsters (and others) who just want to pig out and couldn’t care in the slightest about the latest in absurd enviro-health concerns. My cousin works at Chipotle, and he and his coworkers certainly don’t prattle on about such things.

      Perhaps the whole thing is aimed at making Steve Ells feel better about himself.

      1. Unless the price of non-GMO ingredients is exorbitantly high, it’s probably a winning bet if they can win favored fast-casual status among the small percentage of the population that freaks out over frankenfoods like corn or orange carrots.

        1. Yeah, this is not a loser for Chipotle. People who don’t care about GMOs don’t care if their food is GMO or not, so Chipotle doesn’t lose them. So for the smaller subset of people who do care, Chipotle is now a better option. They may have gained customers and have basically lost none. That’s increased market share. That’s good business.

          A lot of people are dumb. And a lot of people have made fortunes catering to that. I wouldn’t mind doing so myself.

          1. They’ll certainly lose customers when the prices go up.

          2. You can fool all of the people some of the time; some of the people all of the time; and that’s sufficient for most purposes.

          3. People who don’t care about GMOs don’t care if their food is GMO or not, so Chipotle doesn’t lose them.

            They lost me. Whole Foods lost me for the same reason. They are telling me in no uncertain terms that I have a better chance of encountering smugness when I step into their establishments. So I avoid them.

          4. I’m going to be boycotting Chipotle for this. I’ll be going to Moe’s from now on.

  2. Whatever the intention of those involved, embracing pseudoscience as the centerpiece of an advertising and branding effort is an act of corporate irresponsibility.

    I think the GMO pants-wetters are idiots. But there is no such fucking thing as “corporate responsibility” (other than the responsibility to attempt to run a profitable, above-board company). “Corporations” cannot have responsibility, as they are nothing but a bunch of individual humans working together. Only humans can have responsibility.

    Calling corporations who don’t do what you like “irresponsible” is exactly what the GMO pants-wetters do, just in the opposite direction. You’re acting just like them, it’s just they’re TEAM WHITE RICE and you’re TEAM KILLER TOMATO.

    1. I came here to say the exact same thing. I’ll also point out that this is how markets work. People get what they’re willing to pay for, and that includes stupid people.

      1. Precisely, look at Apple.


        1. I’m so sick of that fucking cult.

          1. The cult of Apple haters? Yeah, I’m sick of them too.

        2. It’s a luxury brand. People pay a substantial premium for status.

          1. Anyone who thinks Apple is merely a cult, a luxury brand, a status symbol, etc., doesn’t understand Apple. Apple has a design philosophy and engineering chops that produce carefully-crafted, high-quality products, and (eventually) people responded to that. It’s not that Apple somehow used hype to hypnotize scores of millions of people to buy things that aren’t worth the money. Quality led to popularity.

            Typed on my thin, light, and fast MacBook Air.

            1. I’m not insulting Apple. It is treated by many analysts as a luxury brand and performs like one.

              However, their products are generally far too expensive for what you get.

            2. Except that I get a higher quality, higher power devices for less when I avoid apple crap like the plague.

              1. Please link to a laptop that beats the MacBook Air in quality, speed, and size.

            3. You are right. It’s not as if it is a scam or something. They do a great job.

              I’m still done with them. I think they have taken the elegant simplicity thing too far. I want more sockets to plug things into. And an obvious way to open the thing if I need to replace parts.

              1. Zeb, all design involves tradeoffs. Apple tends to aim for simple and small and light. They figure that people who don’t need more ports get a small and lighter device, and those that need more can get an adapter. Making a unit easily serviceable is nice, but again, there are tradeoffs in size and etc. Mac Pros have always been easily serviceable, but they figure few people will want to open their iPhone or iPod.

            4. No badmouthing Apple! Bought in back in 2005. Woo. Hoo.

            5. Apple is a brutally capitalistic business that makes very high quality products and then markets them to people that abhor capitalism. There is a peculiar form of genius involved here.

              1. They also have had problems with a few of their factories reputedly violating fair labor practices, with very little outcry. Because they’re a favored company. It’s interesting how much people discard their moral judgments based on who or what is involved, not on whether what has been done is right or wrong.

                1. None of my flaming liberal friends said a word when the Foxconn employees were throwing themselves off the roof of the factory during the roll-out of the iPod.

                  1. The same Chinese factories that make Apple products make all the products of Apple’s competitors.

                    1. Yup, and I’ve bought Foxconn stuff for building a PC.

                      I on the other hand, do not use a $2000 macbook to rage on Facebook about evil corporations.

                    2. I’m sure my beautiful LG G3 was made by a machine run by little yellow people in some shit-hole factory in mainland China. It doesn’t bother me one bit.

                2. They also have had problems with a few of their factories reputedly violating fair labor practices, with very little outcry.

                  Funny… the way I remember it, Apple was *singled out* for this despite Samsung et al. using the exact same factories.

            6. From what I’ve used, HP is preferable to a Mac. My HP is faster, holds more memory, and has some handy functions. These are things I would not describe my Mac with.

              1. I recently helped my girlfriend buy a Mac after her HP desktop became an insufferable disaster after only a few years. One of my Macs is from 1999, and still works fine.

                1. If it worked fine you wouldn’t have needed to buy another.

              2. I have both. My HP laptop is actually quite nice. The main drawback is that it runs Windows. I’m much happier day-to-day using OS X.

        3. I was watching Top Gear the other night and Jeremy painted an “i” on the car because idiots think that putting an i on something makes it good for the environment.

          1. That would be the episode where they design their own electric car. It’s fucking brilliant, especially when they “test” it to meet European road standards.

    2. I agree completely, but I’d also note that for many, probably most companies, corporate responsibility and similar “Let’s do good” efforts are usually a PR move, intended to bolster the brand with consumers and investors. It’s not all that, as people in management may very well want to do something of a beneficial nature not directly affecting the bottom line, but they can’t go too far down that road, since their ethical duty as managers is to maximize shareholder equity (little different when there’s one person who owns a controlling interest in a private company).

      1. I do wonder how much is motivated by a need to preemptively bow down before the highly vocal minority. “Please angry god don’t protest against us!”

    3. Yep. 2014 revenue for Monsanto: just shy of $15 billion. 2014 revenue for Whole Foods: just shy of $13 billion. Clearly, Whole Foods’ anti-GMO ad campaign is working. I wouldn’t expect the fear mongering and pants wetting to end any time soon…

    4. I think the GMO pants-wetters are idiots

      I think they are worse than idiots. When your “anti-corporate activism” against companies like Monsanto or Dow who are working on solving food problems for starving nations ends up stalling their research or even causing them to abandon it altogether, you are part of the problem now.

      I think they aren’t just idiots, they are fucking evil. Their desire to have boutique produce at any cost whilst trying to shut down companies who are solving real world problems is obnoxious and malevolent.

      Some of them are now trying to repent for their sins ( How I Got Converted to G.M.O. Food ), but it’s a little late for those that starved to death thanks to their activism.

  3. Went to Chipotle the other day. It sucked; they don’t even make fresh tortillas.

    1. Follow the link in my handle.

  4. I am going to demand that Chipotle label whether their food has been touched by Jews or not. I mean, we’re not making a value judgement here, it’s just a matter of truthfulness, right?

    1. Make sure you let them know that those flimsy gloves don’t count as not touching.

    2. “What is this gold star on my burrito?”

      “It just means we made it extra special good.”

    3. Just order the pork burrito.

  5. And Chick-Fil-A closes on Sundays to pay conspicuous homage to a weird religious belief.

    Corporations don’t have responsibility other than catering to their customers’ demands. RB is correct to call Chipotle out as corporate whores who violate their own pledge to integrity (we all know how important those are!), but that’s just good business when your customer base consists of uneducated people with bad taste. Which is pretty much every service-industry business everywhere.

  6. And yet Chipotle continues to serve food containing dihydrogen monoxide!!!

    1. That’s a damned lie.

    2. Please make mine fluoridated…

  7. Again, GMO labeling isn’t really about science–like “global warming” isn’t really about science.

    I don’t care whether the science behind global warming is accurate; I just care that the socialist solutions on offer are completely rejected. When the average person says they believe or don’t believe in global warming, they’re generally not talking about the science. They’re talking about whether they believe the government should interfere in the economy to fight global warming. And talking about the science behind global warming, for most people, is putting the cart before the horse. What they believe about the science is a function of whether they think the government should interfere in the economy.

    The primary meaning of “Global Warming” for most people is as a lifestyle brand.

    GMO is the same way. It’s just not about the science.

    It’s like when the NFL lets players wear pink to raise awareness of breast cancer. That isn’t about science either! But telling people that wearing pink doesn’t actually fight breast cancer doesn’t accomplish anything but make us look like we’re the ones that are completely obtuse.

    GMO is about people expressing their desire to live in harmony with the environment. When people hear us complain about it, they don’t think, “Wow, I really need to understand the science better!” Instead, they think, “Wow, those puppy kicking libertarians really don’t give a shit about the environment, do they!”

    1. Well, a lot of people are making the unjustified leap from the idea that something is “modified” to the conclusion that it is bad for the environment.

      And they are so emotionally commited to that leap of logic that they are basically willing to fabricate evidence to reinforce that belief.

      The reality is that GMOs AREN’T bad for either human health, OR the environment. In fact, they are in many ways beneficial. The ones currently on the market require lower amounts of pesticides, and they enable no-till farming. Also disease resistance and drought tolerance in some cases. The possibilities are really endless – you could engineer a soybean that doesn’t contain the allergens that people with soy allergies are allergic to.

      That was in 2002. I wonder why it hasn’t hit the market yet….

      Oh wait, I don’t wonder. It’s because of the anti-GMO assholes standing in the way.

      1. It’s true that people are worried about things like Roundup herbicide, etc. And I’d rather live in a world without any of that stuff, too–if it didn’t make any difference either way.

        Again, people are signaling their desires.

        It’s like wearing one of those cause jewelry charity bracelets. Buying one of those bracelets probably isn’t going to change the world one iota, but that’s not the point. People feel good about buying them and wearing them…

        Going non-GMO is the same thing. They’re just marketing to people who want to signal their desire to live in a more environmentally free world.

        I hope this is getting across. To me, this is like going after Catholics for believing in transubstantiation. I don’t think most Catholics do believe in transubstantiation. That’s not why they’re Catholic! They’re Catholic because they like going to church with their family. They like to go to Easter service. They want a nice church wedding with a priest, and they want to see a priest do the funeral services of their loved ones. They want to send their kids to the same Catholic school they went to, made friends at, etc.

        It isn’t about transubstantiation. And if we went after them for that, it make US look obtuse. Yeah, they know Galileo was right, but what does that have to do with why people go to church on Sunday?

        So GMO being better isn’t really scientific? They still want to live in a more environmentally free world, and for most of them, that’s all non-GMO means.

        1. Well, that would all be great if they weren’t attending a church that actively was impeding life-saving technological development, and thus harming people.

          The anti-GMO people ARE attending that church.

          1. “The anti-GMO people ARE attending that church.”

            Most of them are just buying burritos.

            They’re just sitting at mass. They haven’t burned anyone at the stake. They’re not terrorists for the IRA.

            They’re just shopping at Whole Foods and buying their tacos at Chipotle because the food tastes great and it makes them feel good.

  8. “And they are undermining public trust in legitimate scientific authority…”

    To say nothing of the fact that they are standing in the way of Progress. Chipotle’s asking to see scientific studies showing the long-term safety of GMOs, This is ‘anti-science derangement’ according to the author.

  9. Also, like I said in the other thread, because I have a severe soy allergy, I couldn’t eat anything at Chipotle before they went GMO free.

    Now that they’ve gone GMO free, I can eat everything on the menu except for the tofu (Sofritas):

    For a tremendous number of people who are allergic to peanuts and soy (which are both legumes and molecularly similar), marketing something as GMO-free means it’s probably soy free–since almost all the soy out there is GMO. When you have a soy or peanut allergy (the most common food allergy) seeing “GMO free” means you can probably eat it.

    There are some 45 million Americans who claim to have food allergies out there, and Chipotle effectively announced to all of them that they should take a look at Chipotle’s menu again. That’s what I did. I’ve been eating at Chipotle twice a week since they announced the they were going GMO free–and I thought I’d never be able to eat fast food again.

    1. That’s an angle I hadn’t considered, Ken, though I’d think Chipotle could have made that explicitly part of their spin on this decision instead of making the primary focus “ooga booga frankenfood something something” like they have.

      I’m curious, what about GMOs necessitates that even non-soy foods will affect those allergies?

      1. There isn’t anything about soy being non-GMO that makes them less likely to trigger allergies. It’s just that because non-GMO soy is so rare, there’s probably no way they could get enough non-GMO soy to service a nationwide chain of restaurants.

        Even if they could get enough non-GMO soybean oil, etc., it’s probably so expensive that it defeats half the purpose of using soybean oil anyway.

        So, again, when you see non-GMO, chances are (like 98% of the time), it means there’s no soy in it. It’s not that there’s anything healthier about eating non-GMO. It’s just a red flag for people with common food allergies.

    2. See my comment above about hypoallergenic soybeans.

      1. I read that link. Thank you for that.

        If they develop a hypoallergenic soybean, that’ll be great. I certainly won’t avoid it if it doesn’t make me sick.

        In the meantime, I’ll just keep avoiding all soy.

        1. Think about how your life would be different if that soybean had hit the market 10 years ago.

  10. But Chipotle, Whole Foods and those who follow their examples are doing real social harm.

    Preventing “social harm” is not their job. Their job is to sell stuff people want to buy and thus make money. Can’t fault them for that.

    1. I can fault them for whatever I damn well please.

      1. I tried to leave the “I” in “I can’t fault …” out for purposes of brevity, but now look what you made me do. =D

        Yeah, you can hate on Chipotle all you want. Have at it.

        I won’t go there because it’s a meh quality chain restaurant, but whatever.

    2. “But Chipotle, Whole Foods and those who follow their examples are doing real social harm.”

      I guess it’s a good thing they’re not selling beer, cigarettes, Zig Zags, Four Loko, making payday loans…

      I wonder if Bailey and Sullum get along.

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  12. OK, couple of things.

    1. Corporations do not have a ‘responsibility to not propagandize psuedoscience’ – any more than they have a responsibility to support and other ‘social good’ cause.
    2. Customers want stuff that isn’t made with new GMO techniques – and corporations are responding.

    Both of those are fairly standard positions that libertarians support *elsewhere*.

    Unfortunately, I do not see any recognition (and even see refusal to acknowledge) of libertarian principles here simply because this is an action we don’t like.

  13. So if corn was genetically modified to include the botulism toxin, it would still be safe to eat because it was a GMO?

    You are asking the wrong question. It isn’t whether it is GMO or not, but what was it modified to do? We already selected the genome via cross breeding and finding good hybrids.

    1. Correct. You can do bad stuff with GMO, you can do bad stuff with crossbreeding. It doesn’t matter how the gene got there it’s what the gene does that matters. Thus there is nothing wrong with “GMO” in general.

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  15. Wait, so there aren’t ANY scientific studies which a show that GMO’s might be harmful?
    Not one study??
    I recall reading one about Round-Up Ready seeds…hmm, well, I’ll track that down. Personally, I don’t buy into junk science.
    Some do.
    I need actual studies using the scientific method.
    Call me crazy.

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