The controversial video, produced by Denver-based Mexican fast-food chain Chipotle, has captured more than 6.9 million views since it was released last month, and is the latest salvo in the war over how food is produced and how much information is disclosed to consumers.
Lately, the most heated part of that debate has been about genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, in foods and efforts by companies to market them as “all natural” — a term that has no legal definition but that many consumers equate with products that do not contain artificial preservatives, flavorings or colors.
Early this year, Chipotle became the first national company to post labels on its Web site letting customers know which ingredients contain genetically modified organisms, whose DNA was manipulated in a lab. It lists soybean oil, white masa flour and corn products such as ground corn, corn germ and corn starch, and says it is trying to phase out the ingredients.
Whole Foods and Ben & Jerry’s quickly followed with their own pledges to become GMO-free; superstore Target said it would add a brand that will not use any genetically modified ingredients.
While most developed nations have required companies to label GMOs in foods for more than a decade, support for such a measure in the United States has just recently begun to gain traction in corporate boardrooms, state legislatures and courts.
“As public awareness is growing about GMOs, consumers are increasingly demanding to know what they are eating,” said Elizabeth O’Connnell, campaign director for Green America, an environmental group based in Washington.
O’Connell and others who support mandatory labeling say that there hasn’t been enough research into genetically modified foods to know if they harmful. Moreover, they argue, labeling would bring a layer of transparency to an industry dominated by a few powerful corporations.
A petition submitted to the Food and Drug Administration calling for mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods garnered more than 1.2 million signatures, and several polls over the past few years have found that the vast majority of Americans — more than 90 percent — support labeling.
In June, Connecticut and Maine became the first states to pass legislation requiring labeling of GMO foods, though they are delaying implementation until more nearby states do the same. At least 20 other states are considering similar bills.
Critics of labeling laws say they are an unfair burden to businesses and retailers and may falsely alarm consumers by implying GM foods are dangerous even though such claims are not supported by scientific research.