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The Ethics of Eating: Chipotle’s confession brings the war against GMO’s to the forefront.

By: Emiliano Vazquez-Parrales (evazqu20@uic.edu), Section Editor for Student Voices

On June 18, 2013 Denver, Co-based Mexican fast-food chain Chipotle announced that it has for many years been using genetically modified organisms (GMO) in its food.  Since its beginning Chipotle has advertised itself as a healthier alternative to other fast food chains, and while most of its vegetables are still local and organic (grown within a farm 350 miles of restaurant) and its meat and dairy are responsibly/pasture raised, the problem mostly lies within the soybean cooking oil which is grown from a GMO seed, and in the growth hormones fed to the animals.  Chipotle’s decision to announce its use of GMO’s in its food has brought to light an ongoing and disturbing war that has been fought for many years in the battle field of Congress and American courts.

On May 30, 2013, an amendment to the 2013 Farm Bill that would have allowed the states to enact a mandatory GMO labeling law was rejected by 71 U.S. senators. According to the 10th Amendment of the United States Constitution every state has the right to protect the health, safety, and welfare of its citizens and local businesses. These are the people that are being the most effected by GMO’s, especially local famers.  It isn’t the first time that senators have voted against the best interests of their constituents but this amendment to the 2013 Farm Bill mostly failed because of the heavy lobbying on the part of the Monsanto Company, which also has very strong ties with the government, and the FDA.   Monsanto is a company that specializes in genetic engineering specifically in the agriculture and food industry where it is mostly viewed as juggernaut amongst its competitors, which are mostly local farming families.

The Monsanto Company has been active since the Vietnam War during which time it developed an extremely lethal chemical weapon with Dow Chemical that would come to be known as Agent Orange.  Agent Orange was responsible for killing/maiming 400,000 people (American and Vietnamese), along with countless birth defects and neurological disorders, and is linked to various types of cancers.  Monsanto has for three decades refused to apologize for creating what is perhaps one of the most devastating chemicals on the planet.  In more recent years Monsanto has mostly resided itself to suing local dairy and cattle farmers who try to advertise themselves as free of rBGH (a synthetic growth hormone banned all over the world except in the U.S.), which is developed by Monsanto; as well as dumping toxic waste like PCB’s (now banned after 40 years) into a small region of Alabama which is now one of the most polluted patches of America,; creating weed killers like Roundup which causes diseases in wheat making them unfit for human and animal consumption; causing the growth of Super Weeds; and last but definitely not least buying up water supplies that were in the past polluted by Monsanto, filtering them and then selling them back to the people.

Now I am sure many of you readers are asking: why so much animosity towards Monsanto?  Well,  remember that GE soybean oil that Chipotle fries its food in?  Approximately 85% of the GE soybean seeds are made by Monsanto who in the past has said, “Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food, our interest is selling as much of it as possible.  Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job”.  That was Phil Angell, Monsanto’s director of corporate communications, and what he is saying is essentially right.  Monsanto is a company and like many companies in this country its main interest is to generate revenue.  The problem however is that there has been an overwhelming number of former Monsanto employees who have gone on to work for the FDA and other regulatory agencies that are responsible for monitoring Monsanto products.  Margaret Miller for example was a scientist for Monsanto who contributed to a report for the FDA on a bovine growth hormone they created, and shortly before that report was submitted she left Monsanto to work for the FDA where she approved her own study!

Clearly there is something wrong with this picture it cannot be that these GMO’s are being dispersed all across the country and are being consumed by millions of Americans each day without proper inspection.  It is unknown what types of developmental and health side-effects these GE foods can have on the human body in terms of long term and short term development, and it is dangerous for these types of practices to be going on within the federal government.  It is the FDA’s job to provide a non-biased scientific evaluation of the products that it approves for mass distribution and obviously that is not the case.  Monsanto guarantees the safety of its products but how can the average American be expected to trust a company that has in the past proven to engage in some very unethical practices?

This is why Chipotle needs to be praised for its actions.  By coming out and deciding to label its food with a G for GMO it has taken a step in the right ethical and moral direction because it has chosen to divulge some very sensitive information to its customers about its product which could potentially hurt its business – but at least it has made people aware about what it is they are putting into their bodies. Since the amendment to the 2013 Farm Bill was shot down and the government has no legal right to label GMO’s, the responsibility now falls upon the fast-food and restaurant businesses of America to make their customers aware of what exactly it is they are eating, and hopefully they follow the example of Chipotle.  The best part about what Chipotle did is that they also revealed a plan to slowly weed out GMO’s from its menu replacing them with more natural products.  That in itself reveals that they know what they were doing was at least to some degree wrong.  When it comes to GMO’s it is better for a company to be honest with its consumers rather than attempt to conceal the truth, because when the truth gets out either through a leak or federal indictment it just creates bad publicity for the company.  At least by being honest these companies can be prepared for the media backlash and attempt to recover.  However, make no mistake that this is a health crisis that has  revealed some serious wrongdoings and oversights on the part of the government and the FDA and if you, the reader, truly care about what you put into your body, or do not wish to purchase products from a company that is involved in so many unethical practices, you need to attempt to seek out the information that will guide you to making better choices and by letting your local and state representatives know exactly how you feel about GMO’s and the FDA.

For more information on the 71 Senators who voted against the amendment to the 2013 Farm Bill visit:  http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_27635.cfm

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