Chipotle Class Action Lawsuit Filed Over Use of GMOs, Despite Marketing Claims

The beleaguered Mexican food restaurant chain Chipotle, which has experienced a number of food poisoning outbreaks and lawsuits over contaminated food in recent months, now faces a class action lawsuit over the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). 

The complaint (PDF) was filed by Allison Pappas in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California on March 10, accusing Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. of making misleading and false claims that its food is free of GMOs.

The Chipotle lawsuit seeks class action status for California customers who purchased food and beverage products since April 27, 2015.

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That month was when the restaurant began advertising that its menu was free of GMOs, while playing on public concerns over the possible health implications of genetically altered food. However, the class action indicates that Chipotle was misleading its customers.

“But as Chipotle told consumers it was ‘G-M-Over it,’ the opposite was true,” the lawsuit states. “In fact, the ingredients in Chipotle’s menu items have never been free of GMOs at any time.”

The complaint notes that the restaurants served meat from animals who were fed genetically modified corn and soy, and that products were served with sour cream and cheese made from dairy animals also fed with GMOs. In addition, the Coca-Cola and other soft drinks served at the restaurants are made with GMO corn syrup, the lawsuit claims.

“While Chipotle knows that its menu contains ingredients with GMOs, or contains items from animals raised on GMOs, it takes no meaningful steps to clarify for in-store consumers its actual practices relative to GMOs,” the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit points out that it is virtually unavoidable to have genetically modified food in the ingredient stream since virtually all livestock in the U.S. are fed with modified corn and soy. According to the complaint, the company’s false and misleading advertisements about it being GMO-free leave it misbranded under FDA regulations.

Customers not only made decisions to eat at Chipotle’s based on the alleged false advertising, according to the lawsuit, but also paid a premium to do so. The lawsuit notes that a similar meal at Chipotle’s is about $5 more expensive than the equivalent sold by Taco Bell.

The lawsuit presents claims for violation of the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act, false advertising laws and unfair competition laws.

Chipotle Food Poisoning Lawsuits

The class action lawsuit comes on the heels of a number of food poisoning outbreaks at Chipotle restaurants throughout the United States over the past year.

The first to gain national attention was a norovirus outbreak that sickened at least 100 customers in California who ate at the Chipotle restaurant in Simi Valley around August 2015.

That Chipotle outbreak was preceded by a salmonella food poisoning outbreak that sickened 64 customers who ate at another location of the Mexican food chain in Minnesota that same month. It was then followed by an E. coli outbreak in October and November, which sickened at least 53 people in nine states; another outbreak that sickened 140 patrons of a Boston restaurant, and reports of five other norovirus illnesses scattered across three states, all of whom also were traced back to Chipotle eateries.

A number of Chipotle food poisoning lawsuits have been filed against the chain by some consumers who fell ill.

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