Thursday, April 30, 2015

Chipotle and GMOs: Irrational Fear or Genius Marketing?

Recently Chipotle announced that its menu will now be entirely GMO free. This is just the latest in a string of actions and announcements that have thrilled anti-GMO groups and drawn the ire of U.S. producers. Their apparent ideological commitment isn't all political; it has had some financial consequences as well. The chain is unable to stock one of their primary meat items and has gone all the way to the Land Down Under for their beef because they ostensibly don't believe U.S.-produced meat is good enough for their customers.

While some may conclude that Chipotle's management are a bunch of anti-science morons, I think they're something like the opposite. The management knows full well, as most of us do, that all the available scientific evidence points to the safety of genetically modified organisms. In fact, a recent study has shown that sweet potatoes have "naturally" (whatever that means) modified their own genome with bacterial genes. Humans have been modifying the genes of our food via cross breeding for a very, very long time. We've simply found a better way to do it.

The anti-GMO movement has created an extremely valuable market opportunity that Chipotle is exploiting with great skill. Chipotle is able to simultaneously appeal to the most extreme anti-GMOers as well as the vast majority of us who only want good-tasting food at a decent price (hold the politics, please).

So are Chipotle's managers pushing an anti-science agenda? Are they preying on the irrational fears of people who live in an echo chamber and refuse to take a dispassionate look at scientific evidence? Some people may like that sort of language, but it really doesn't describe the state of things any better than I have above. Chipotle has acted in an entrepreneurial fashion to provide a product that many people want: tasty food and many others seemingly can't live without: GMO-free food. The consumer truly is king and Chipotle's success is proof positive of that.

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