Fast Food News Science

Chipotle Just Settled for $6.5 Million Over Non-GMO Claims

Genetically engineered foods, or GMOs, have long been the focus of debate in this country. While science has repeatedly found them to be safe and healthy, third party labels like “non-GMO” have gained traction amongst consumers that, thanks to a collection of fear-mongering articles and documentaries, have developed antagonistic sentiments towards a technology that could feed and save the planet.

The debate around those labels just got an intriguing new talking point, thanks to a false advertising lawsuit that targeted Chipotle over claims that its food was non-GMO.

chipotle hid several foodborne illness outbreaks

Chipotle, who just agreed to settle the lawsuit for $6.5 million, had used “non-GMO” to describe its food in advertising campaigns. However, according to the National Law Review, genetically modified feed had been used to feed some of the animals Chipotle sourced for its meat and dairy ingredients. That violates the terms of the standard put together by The Non-GMO Project, one of the most encompassing third-party labels food manufacturers can obtain in regards to non-GMO products.

It’s appropriate to call The Non-GMO Project a third party label since it’s not any standard or method approved by the federal government. Currently, the FDA has no legally enforceable interpretation of the term “non-GMO,” and even refuses to use it in its own language. They’ve also come out with statements that say that claims of non-GMO could be misleading for other reasons, even if the main reason companies utilize them is to convey that their products are safe and healthy.

The FDA’s specific statement regarding the matter is as follows:

For example, the labeling of a bag of specific type of frozen vegetables that states that they were “not produced through modern biotechnology” could be misleading if, in addition to this statement, the labeling contains statements or vignettes that suggest or imply that, as a result of not being produced through modern biotechnology, such vegetables are safer, more nutritious, or have different attributes than other foods solely because the food was not produced using modern biotechnology.

With all of this controversy bubbling up surrounding the term, and with Chipotle paying significantly for using it in their advertising, it could potentially lead to a decrease in the amount of non-GMO claims used by the food industry. As the level of education and literacy the public gains on the safety and health of genetically engineered food increases as well, it could only be a matter of time before this third-party labeling of non-GMOs becomes moot.

As part of the aforementioned lawsuit, Chipotle will pay out refunds for anyone in the US who ate at their restaurants between April 27, 2015 and June 30, 2016. Households are eligible for up to $2 per meal for 5 meals without documentation plus another 10 with receipts and proof of purchase.

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Pro-GMO Chocolate Brand Launches FREE First Batch To Educate Consumers On GMO Foods

GMO (genetically modified) foods get a lot of bad rap in today’s society. Despite a breadth of scientific knowledge debunking claims to the contrary, many feel that they are unsafe and unhealthy.

To be fair, GMO foods also get their reputation from companies like Monsanto that have used them for unethical reasons. However, there’s plenty of good that GMO foods can bring to the world, and a new chocolate brand is hoping to educate consumers about that side of the story.

Photo courtesy of Ethos Chocolate

Called Ethos Chocolate, this brand was developed by pro-GMO farmer coalition A Fresh Look to help showcase how GMO foods have already been a benefit to society. Their four introductory brands each involve a key crop whose future has been altered or saved through genetic engineering.

Examples include “The Survivor,” which features papaya, a fruit that was all but wiped out in Hawaii after a ring spot virus spread across the archipelago. Genetic engineering variants resistant to the virus was key in restoring the crop back to sustainable levels.

There’s also “The Hero,” which utilizes oranges, a crop facing a similar issue today from citrus greening disease. Scientists are working hard to develop an orange that inherently prevents citrus greening from ever taking hold. Apples, which have undergone both natural and genetic modification to prevent browning, also take a major role in “The Trendsetter” bar that Ethos is selling.

One of the big reasons why this product line was developed was because of the issues surrounding chocolate itself. Studies have predicted that climate change and pests could significantly reduce the available land for cacao trees (the source of chocolate) within the next few decades. While not an actual extinction threat, it does put stress on a burgeoning demand for chocolate around the world, and scientists are working on using CRISPR (a gene-editing technique) to help combat against potential viral and fungal diseases as well as climate change.

It’s definitely going to be difficult for Ethos to get started as a brand, since most consumers are against anything to do with GMO Foods. To help, the chocolatiers are giving out their first limited batch of product for free as a Valentine’s Day gift. If you fill out a form on the Ethos website by February 10th (or before supplies run out), a special box of the chocolates will be sent to whoever you want (including yourself) this Valentine’s Day.

News Science

Study Finds Russian Sites Are Spreading Misinformed Anti-GMO Clickbait Articles

Turns out that Russia may be trying to influence more than our politics. They want a piece of our agriculture, too, and they’re trying to get it through a massive negative media campaign on GMOs.

russian sites

A new study coming out from Iowa State University calls out RT and Sputnik for “misinformation attacks” that cast GMOs in an “overwhelmingly” negative perspective. According to Gizmodo, researchers found that the two Russian sites produced more GMO articles than Fox News, CNN, Huffington Post, Breitbart, and MSNBC combined. 34% of anti-GMO articles scraped came from RT, leading all of the aforementioned sites in related content.

Why would Russia want to inundate the internet with anti-GMO messages? The country has banned GMOs outright in its agricultural practices, and the Des Moines Register reports that their ag industry is now the second-largest in the country. Taking the fight to GMOs, which are prevalent in corn and soy in the United States, could help Russia steal some of their market share.

Of course, this all banks on RT and Sputnik using their propaganda to convince the entire world that GMOs are bad and that US crops, therefore, should not be purchased. Bill Gates just made a strong statement in favor of GMOs, so that should help spread awareness. Hopefully, though, we’ve become educated enough on GMOs to see through the thin veil Russia’s trying to pull over our eyes.

Health News Science

Survey Finds That 30 Percent Of Americans Think Non-GMO Foods Don’t Have Genes

In the latest update on the big controversy that are GMO foods, we now know that a lot of people don’t understand what non-GMO foods really are.

non-gmo foods

Photo: Pixabay

A new Food Literacy and Engagement Poll out of Michigan State University has revealed that 30 percent of Americans believe that non-GMO foods don’t contain genes. For those of you wondering, yes, non-GMO foods still have DNA naturally inside of them, since everything that’s living contains DNA.

The largest group of people that believe that non-GMO equals DNA-free is millennials. Nearly half of the participants under 30 in this nationally representative poll felt that non-GMO translates to no genes. In contrast, about a fourth of those surveyed over 55 agreed with that statement.

With all of the misinformation and distrust resulting from fear-mongering non-GMO advocacy groups, it’s no wonder that food literacy, especially around GMOs, produces shocking results like this. While education has often been touted as the solution to this problem, a massive mistrust of experts the Michigan State poll found calls that strategy into question. Only 59 percent of respondents said they would trust academic experts on nutrition and food safety. Additionally, trust in government scientists is down to 49 percent, and industry scientists down to 33 percent.

Documentaries could be a potential solution as well. Food Evolution, a recent film featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson, is an excellent education piece on GMO foods and the controversies surrounding them. If that movie continues to spread, it could help to combat the misinformation that exists online about GMO and non-GMO foods.

Regardless, this poll reveals that the American public still receives and believes a lot of misleading and misguided information on the subject of genetically engineered and GMO foods. It also shows that it’s getting increasingly harder to find a good solution to this, since nearly half of the country won’t trust the experts in the field who dedicate their lives to understanding these concepts.

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Pink Pineapples Are Real Now, Here’s How They Get Their Color

At the end of last year, the FDA approved Del Monte’s “pink pineapple” in regards to safety when being consumed and ability to sell in the United States. While nobody had seen one of the pineapples as of yet, pictures have begun to circulate on the Internet recently as test crops of the new pineapple are being grown on plantations of both Dole and Del Monte in Hawaii and Costa Rica.

Everyone knows by now that this pineapple has been genetically modified to obtain its pink color and sweetness, but how that engineering was actually done is a bit of a mystery. Based on Del Monte’s initial patent for what they called the “Rose Gold” pineapple, here’s what’s actually being done to the pineapple to make it pink.

When young, pineapple fruits produce a lot of a pigment called lycopene, which is also responsible for the red color in your tomatoes. As the fruit matures, that lycopene is converted by enzymes, or proteins that cause reactions, that are naturally found within the pineapple into yellow carotenoids that give the fruit the yellow color we’re accustomed to and also add some acidity to its flavor profile.

In this particular variant, Del Monte was able to simply suppress the genes responsible for developing those enzymes and preventing lycopene’s conversion. While it doesn’t fully inhibit conversion, the modification is enough to develop the pink color in the fruit and make the fruit a little sweeter in the process.

🍍 💕#doleplantation #pineappleplant #pinkpineapple #Hawaii #oahu #vacationalliveeverwanted #halakahiki

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Other genetic modifications were also performed in the Rose pineapple. A tangerine gene was spliced in to decrease the levels of another enzyme, bromelain, that makes some people allergic to pineapple. Additionally, a potato gene was added to decrease the flowering of pineapples, thereby increasing the yield of this pink pineapple.

All of these genetic modifications result in a vibrant, safe, and tasty new pineapple that I’m definitely eager to try out. While there’s no timetable for when these will hit markets yet, the pictures of these fruits growing and thriving are a good sign that they’ll be available sooner rather than later.

Culture Health Technology

Seriously, STOP Being Scared of GMO Foods


I’ll never forget the first time that I watched Food Inc. We watched the documentary in my high school’s culinary arts/food science class, and what stuck with me more than anything else was the controversy and scandal that surrounded Monsanto throughout that film. From that, I began to develop a passion about food, food science, and food activism. At the heart of that passion and interest is the topic of genetically engineered (GE) food – better known as GMOs.

GMOs – or genetically modified organisms – are one of the most hotly debated topics when it comes to food. The majority of the public that knows about GMO food think it is unsafe and worse for your health, based on a poll from the Pew Research Center.

Yet there’s still so much the public doesn’t fully understand about GMOs. However, only 10 percent trust the food industry to tell them the truth about GMOs. Less than half trust scientists to do the same thing.

With a growing distrust and a lack of knowledge in consumers about GMOs and GE food, it’s important that the food industry and scientists better gain trust and communicate the knowledge they have. With that in mind, I had a chat with GMOAnswers Expert Christopher Barbey to talk about our views on GMOs, the public’s views on GMOs, and where they are headed in the future.

Christopher is a current PhD student at the University of Florida, studying molecular genetics and plant biology. His research and work focuses on strawberry and potato genetics, and he’s spent some time in the industry, with three and a half years of experience at Simplot – a massive food and agribusiness that uses biotechnology to improve and develop agriculturally sustainable crops. When it comes to genetic engineering, he’s got the experience and knowledge to back up what he’s saying.

With my heightened interest in GMOs and genetically engineered foods, it was great to hear what he had to say.


On The Health And Safety Of GMOs


Having done research as a food scientist in GMO and Genetically Engineered Foods, I feel that there is no health or safety risk when it comes to GMOs. Do you agree with that statement?

I definitely agree with that statement, but with some caveats. There’s a consensus of scientists, scientific agencies, and health agencies worldwide that agree that it’s safe. That’s my answer as a citizen. My answer as a scientist is that I’ve looked at a lot of the data myself and I’m also fully convinced from that angle that it’s totally safe. It hasn’t been a controversial question for 20 years.

I feel the same way in terms of health and safety risks. The big question for me is more of an ethics question, that’s what got it on the map with “Food Inc.” and Monsanto, where GE/GMO was seen in an unethical picture. There are companies taking that research and using it in a more ethical way, like Del Monte’s Rose Gold Pineapple, or the Arctic Apple. In terms of ethics, how should companies use GE or GMO food?

There have been a lot of GE crops that have been released, including those released by independent scientists at universities, like Hawaiian Papaya. You’re definitely going to see a lot more of this, being made by CRISPR [a DNA-splicing technique to put specific genes into organisms] and other things as well.

I think that that’s going to be the story in 10 years, is that you’re going to see more GE crops coming out of universities. I think that’s going to a good thing for the consumer, I’m really excited about that. My opinion is that the traits that have come out of private industry in the early 1990s and 2000s are fantastic traits that have done great things for farmers, for consumers, and for the world in general.


Can you delve more into the papayas? From what I understand, correct me if I’m wrong, there was some kind of disease that wiped out all papayas except for that GE variant, and we wouldn’t have papayas today if it weren’t for that.

Christopher: You’re absolutely right. There was a disease on one of the main islands that was going to hop onto the major island of production. They scrambled and made this “Manhattan Project” and got the USDA and Hawaiian scientists together and made a genetically engineered papaya to resist it. That’s what’s keeping the industry alive and what has been for 15 years.

I wish we had more examples of that and the reason we don’t have more of it – I’m kind of sad to say it, but the reason why we don’t have more examples of that is that we don’t have a more cultural environment that would allow that.


On Educating Consumers About GMOs and GE Food


A lot of consumers have a very negative view among GMOs. How do you reach that consumer base that distrusts GMOs, scientists, and the food industry and tell them that GMOs are safe and fine?

I think that if more people understood what the real potential of genetic engineering was then more people would be on board with it. In America, we have genetically engineered crops that give us big improvements, but it’s not keeping anyone from starving in the United States, right? There’s always food here. But that’s not the story around the world. There’s no ceiling to what we could do with GE, especially in the developing world. We could give healthier food and less expensive food to people who have nothing. I think that the reason we’re not doing that is because companies are afraid of being hated over there. I think it’s a risk that people are unwilling to take.

There was a campaign with 100-plus Nobel laureates who got together and wrote a letter to drive one really simple point. This didn’t really crack into the big, mainstream news. You got 107 of the smartest people in the world writing a letter on one thing. And it was that basically we should let Southeast Asia and Africa have Vitamin-A enhanced golden rice. This was a huge deal, it was going to prevent kids from going blind. Why isn’t this a thing? We’ve had it for like 10 years. And really the only thing that’s holding it up is our cultural environment. We just say no to it. We have amazing technologies that could help the suffering and we’re sitting on it.


I think one of the biggest concerns I’ve seen from people in the community is the question of natural food and whether GE or GMO food fits into that definition. Do you think GMOs fit into the definition of natural? If not, what’s a way that it could be given to consumers to be seen in a positive light?

The reason that that’s such a tricky question is that there’s such a thing as “natural.” We’ve been messing with our food genetics since we started farming 20,000 years ago. When we talk about GE is that it’s one addition or one subtraction of a plant genome to potentially make an improvement. Anytime you make a conventionally bred crop, you’re reshuffling the entire genetic stack. The implications of that are incomprehensible. But it’s what we’ve known, what we’ve been doing for eons, so everybody is in on board with it.

It needs to be said, by the way, that genetically engineered foods have a perfect track record in terms of safety. The record for conventional food and conventional breeding is not unblemished. People have been hurt, like with the Lenape potato (which isn’t GMO), with psoralens in celery. So the idea that natural is better or that conventional breeding is safer in the full scientific comprehension is just totally baseless.


That’s very true, and that’s why GE has come up. There’s basically two types of genetic modification that we do, one of which was done with the Arctic apple that prevents apples form turning brown or the Rose Gold pineapple that prevents the conversion of lycopene to yellow carotenoids. So those forms of GE are what we call “gene silencing.” And then the other form is “Frankenfruit,” where you take the genes from another plant or species and put into the plant you’re trying to modify. 

I think Frankenfruit is so freaking clever, I almost don’t mind it. I wish we could culturally reappropriate that term because it’s so funny. These are highly engineered but also very specific small changes that we’re making to a genome. When we do them, they are studied with such scrutiny that it sometimes takes 5 years and tens of millions of dollars to run them through the regulation gauntlet. The EPA, USDA, the FDA, as well as other world agencies. I don’t know if there’s anything inherently more or less dangerous between gene silencing or over-expressing a trans gene. It all comes down to what is the trait.

I talked before about the Lenape potato, it turns green and makes these harmful compounds and people get sick. We have made those with conventional breeding. We’ve made poisonous crops with conventional breeding. Of course it would be possible to do that with genetic engineering, but it would not be possible to sell it legally. It would have to be such a massive worldwide scientific failure, and everyone has their focus turned on this so much, it would be inconceivable for a genetically engineered trait to be anything but absolutely safe. When I go to my mom’s garden and I see some weird crossbreed between two heirlooms, I’m not worried about eating that. I’m also not worried about eating genetically engineered foods.


On GMO Labeling


Do you think GMO labeling should be done? Should we label them as GMO or GE?

GMO labeling as a political issue has been figured out. There was a bill passed in both houses of Congress, President Obama signed it into law. [It will be implemented within two years, and likely will include QR codes with information on GMOs.] It hasn’t gone into effect yet in terms of QR codes. People who go into grocery stores and want to know that their organic food is non-GMO as well as everything else, they will be able to do that. That’s now going to become law. As far as I understand the issue, it’s kind of over. I think that’s a perfectly fine compromise. I don’t have strong feelings about that.

Do you think that labeling could be more clear though?

Here’s my opinion, and it has nothing to do with policy or anything like that, this is just me speaking here. I think that simply labeling something as genetically modified is empty information for the consumer. It doesn’t tell you anything about the traits, it doesn’t tell you what’s different, there’s no context in there. I think people are not really equipped to understand the consequences of it. […] My fear is that that is a way that implies government endorsement to an unfounded, unscientific fear.

If we had a very scientifically literate population, I think it would be cool to know. When I go and I buy my food at the grocery store, I always check to see what variety it is, because I’m an agricultural guy. I think it would be cool if we could know more about our food, that would be great. But I also think that there’s a responsibility with how information is presented. I think it’s kind of obvious that mandatory labeling would be a tool that’s used to misinform people. I think QR codes is a good compromise.


So, What Is The Future of GMOs?


If you were to take away one key thing from this interview and experience, it’s this: GMOs are safe, healthy, more ethical than ever, and going to be even more prevalent in the future. QR codes and labeling are going to help us understand where our GMOs come from, and can help us make the choice to buy from ethical/unethical GMO companies or not.

Honestly, I feel that GMOs are so negatively viewed in society that we may not use their full potential, as Christopher Barbey emphasized throughout the entire interview. But hopefully by writing this, you all learn a lot more about what GMO and genetically engineered food really is, and how it can be great for our future.

Just remember this one thing: Buy ethical GMOs. They’ll be huge for the future of food.

Fast Food

Here Is Every Ingredient in Your Favorite Fast Food French Fries


I’ll never forget my high-school nutrition teacher telling us to be wary of any food that has more than five ingredients. Most fast food fries go far beyond that rule of thumb.

With the help of Grant Imahara, a former Mythbuster, McDonald’s has tried to myth-bust their way into explaining why the McRib looks like a frozen sponge and show that their McNuggets aren’t made from pink slime.

Now they’re explaining why there’s a crazy amount of ingredients in their fries, which I don’t even think was something we wondered about in the first place, but now that you mention it, why are there 19 ingredients in a batch of McDonald’s french fries, and what the hell is in the french fries at some of our other favorite fast food spots?

Maybe we’re just automatically cynical about McDonald’s, but when you look at burger joints like In-N-Out, they keep it simple and don’t have any ingredients that make us question their quality.

The same can’t be said about some of the other top fast food restaurants, as their ingredient lists can get pretty lengthy:

french fry

In-N-Out and Five Guys, two smaller chains that are usually pitted head-to-head in comparisons, make their fries with potatoes, salt, and frying oil. That’s it. They don’t need Dimethylpolysiloxane to make a good french fry. So what the hell is everyone else feeding us? Well, here’s a list of fry ingredients for some of your favorite fast food joints:

Carl’s Jr./Hardees- 23 Ingredients

Carl’s Jr. has 23 ingredients that make up its fries. Grabbed straight from the Carl’s Jr. site, this is what’s in their fries:

Potatoes, Vegetable Oil (may contain one or more of the following: Canola Oil, Sunflower Oil, Cottonseed Oil, Palm Oil, Corn Oil, Soybean Oil), Modified Food Starch, Rice Flour, Dextrin, Salt, Leavening (Disodium Dihydrogen Pyrophosphate, Sodium Bicarbonate), Dextrose, Xanthan Gum. FRIED IN: Vegetable Oil (Soybean Oil, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil with TBHQ and Citric Acid to protect flavor, Dimethylpolysiloxane (as an antifoaming agent)).

McDonald’s- 19 Ingredients

McDonald’s fries are so good, yet we still feel so sketched out by them. Even explained, it doesn’t make me feel better that all this crap is going in my tummy.

Potatoes, Vegetable Oil (Canola Oil, Soybean Oil, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Natural Beef Flavor [Wheat and Milk Derivatives]*, Citric Acid [Preservative]), Dextrose, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate (Maintain Color), Salt. Prepared in Vegetable Oil: Canola Oil, Corn Oil, Soybean Oil, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil with TBHQ and Citric Acid added to preserve freshness. Dimethylpolysiloxane added as an antifoaming agent.
*Natural beef flavor contains hydrolyzed wheat and hydrolyzed milk as starting ingredients

Wendy’s- 14 Ingredients

Wendy’s has that natural-cut action going on right now and while the ingredient list isn’t as long as some of the others, it still has 14 ingredients.

Potatoes, Vegetable Oil (contains one or more of the following oils: canola, soybean, cottonseed, sunflower, corn), Dextrose, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate (to maintain natural color). Cooked in Vegetable Oil (soybean oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, natural flavor [vegetable], citric acid [preservative], dimethylpolysiloxane [anti-foaming agent]). Cooked in the same oil as menu items that contain Wheat, Egg, Milk, and Fish (where available). Seasoned with Sea Salt.

Burger King, Jack in the Box- 13 Ingredients

Burger King’s Satisfries may have flopped, but their classic fries have enough ingredients to make you spend a good 20 minutes on Google trying to figure out what the hell they all are.

Jack in the Box has recently joined the natural-cut family as well. I don’t think anyone really knows what “natural” means in the fast food world, but whatever it is, it requires quite a bit of ingredients.

Burger King:

Potatoes, Soybean Oil or Canola and Palm Oil, Modified Potato Starch, Rice Flour, Potato Dextrin, Salt, Leavening (Disodium Dihydrogen Pyrophosphate, Sodium Bicarbonate), Dextrose, Xanthan Gum, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate added to preserve natural color.

Jack in the Box:

Potatoes, Canola and Palm Oil, Modified Food Starch (Potato, Corn, Tapioca), Rice
Flour, Dextrin, Salt, Leavening (Disodium Dihydrogen Pyrophosphate, Sodium Bicarbonate), Dextrose, Xanthan Gum. Cooked in Canola Blend Frying Oil.

In-N-Out, Five Guys- 3 Ingredients

Ah, the simplicity. This shouldn’t take long. In-N-Out uses potatoes, salt and cottonseed oil. Same with Five Guys as they just use potatoes, salt and refined peanut oil.

Oh, crap. They have Cajun-style fries too don’t they? Those run up to 11 ingredients.

Potatoes, Refined Peanut Oil, Salt, Cajun Seasoning: Blend of Garlic, Salt, Onion, Paprika, Oregano, White Pepper, Red Pepper, Spice.

I guess those ingredients weren’t that hard to pronounce. In fact, I have all of those in my kitchen. I wonder if we can give them a pass, or nah?

It’s probably no coincidence that the restaurants with more ingredients are all major chains that have a much larger reach than In-N-Out or Five Guys. They might have legitimate reasons for doing so, reasons that might not sound sexy if explained to the public.

In the back of my mind, all these ingredients give me trust issues, but I’ve been brainwashed, and I’d still like an order of fries with my Big Mac.