The complaint alleges that the company has marketed its “Food With Integrity” brand to healthy-lifestyle and environmentally conscious consumers who are willing to pay premium prices for food that aligns with their ethical eating choices. The lawsuit alleges that beginning on April 27 of this year Chipotle launched a multi-media publicity campaign that advertised and represented to consumers that Chipotle was “G-M-Over it” and that it only uses “non-GMO ingredients.” The complaint alleges that Chipotle's claims are false and misleading to customers because Chipotle's menu was never free of GMOs at any time. Among other things, the complaint alleges that Chipotle serves meat products that come from animals that are fed GMOs, including soy and corn; that its sour cream and cheese ingredients come from dairy farms that feed animals GMOs; and that Chipotle sells soft drinks that are made with corn syrup—a GMO.
On Chipotle’s website promoting its “Food With Integrity” and “G-M-Over it” campaign it discloses the following:
“The meat and dairy products we buy come from animals that are not genetically modified. But it is important to note that most animal feed in the U.S. is genetically modified, which means that the meat and dairy served at Chipotle are likely to come from animals given at least some GMO feed. We are working hard on this challenge, and have made substantial progress: for example, the 100% grass-fed beef served in many Chipotle restaurants was not fed GMO grain—or any grain, for that matter.”
In addition, the company notes that many of the beverages sold in its stores contain GMO material, including “high fructose corn syrup, which is almost always made from GMO corn.”
Commenting on the case, Laurence D. King, an attorney for the proposed class action lawsuit said, “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.” King added, “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.”
Demonstrating the growing power of GMO-free claims, The Food Marketing Institute reported that 26% of food shoppers seek out non-GMO products, matching the number of consumers seeking out natural food options. In addition, Packaged Facts market research reported sales of non-GMO foods and beverages climbed to $200 billion in 2014, with the U.S. accounting for 36% of the overall global non-GMO sales.
The complaint alleges violations of the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act, the California False Advertising Law, and the California Unfair Competition Law. The case, titled Gallagher v. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., No. 15-cv-03952, is currently pending in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.