It’s been fascinating to watch the media reaction to Chipotle’s announcement that it was removing most genetically engineered plant ingredients from its menu. If past were prologue, there would have been some thoughtful nodding, some attaboys, and a lot of analysis about whether the change would help Chipotle’s bottom line. But instead, writers and editorial boards lambasted Chipotle.
Here are a few headlines, assembled by Marc Brazeau at the Food and Farm Discussion Lab:
TIME: Why Chipotle Mexican Grill Going GMO-Free is Terrible News
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC: What Chipotle’s Ban on GMOs Says About Us
SLATE: Chipotle Wants to Sell “Food With Integrity.” Dropping GMOs Is the Wrong Way to Do It.
DAILY BEAST: We’re Paranoid About GMO Foods Because of Pseudo-Science
BLOOMBERG VIEW: Chipotle Bans Credibility
NPR: Why We Can’t Take Chipotle’s GMO Announcement All That Seriously
CHICAGO TRIBUNE: Chipotle’s GMO message is muddled
WASHINGTON POST: Chipotle’s GMO gimmick is hard to swallow
NEW YORK MAGAZINE: Chipotle Is Promoting Opportunistic Anti-Science Hysteria
LOS ANGELES TIMES: Chipotle’s junk science on GMOs
MOTHER JONES: Chipotle Says It’s Getting Rid of GMOs. Here’s the Problem.
VOX: Chipotle will stop serving GMO foods — despite zero evidence they’re harmful to eat
GIZMODO: Chipotle’s Anti-GMO Stance Is Some Anti-Science Pandering Bullshit
CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR: Why Tyson antibiotic-free chicken is a bigger deal than GMO-free Chipotle
The only mainstream media support for Chipotle that I could find came from Virginia Postrel at Bloomberg, though she was simply arguing that it was a canny business move:
If, like me, you consider genetically modified crops a beneficial example of scientific ingenuity, you’re probably tempted to dismiss Chipotle’s decision as nothing more than a sop to anti-technology superstition … In fact, there’s a valid strategic reason for the switch. Customers who believe that GMOs are bad are happy, of course. But even if you don’t care about GMOs, the decision sends a positive signal. It’s a high-profile sign that Chipotle is paying close attention to the ingredients in its food.
Why the shift? Maybe journalists have soured on the anti-GMO movement as they’ve learned more about it. Maybe there’s a rising frustration with fad-peddling quactivists like the Food Babe (who claimed victory for the Chipotle change). Or maybe it’s just the fact that these changes are disappointingly superficial: Chipotle will simply switch to corn grown with atrazine, rather than glyphosate, and herbicide-tolerant sunflowers in place of herbicide-tolerant soy.
I’m not sure exactly why this has happened, but one thing is clear: Journalists are now framing this debate in a very different way.