SAN FRANCISCO (Legal Newsline) — Another lawsuit filed against Chipotle over its decision to keep away from genetically modified ingredients could trigger more complaints against other companies making similar claims.
Six consumers filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against Chipotle, alleging its GMO-free advertising campaign is misleading. While a similar suit against the company was dismissed by a judge in the same court in February, a federal judge in Florida gave a separate suit the go-ahead in April.
“I believe that greater scrutiny will be applied to GMO-free claims,” Michael Roberts, executive director of the Resnick Program for Food Law & Policy at the University of California in Los Angeles School of Law, told Legal Newsline.
“It is likely that this scrutiny will lead to further suits against not just Chipotle, but others as well. I don't know for sure, but I suspect that the attention on Chipotle may be due in part to its recent food safety problems, which has raised questions about the company's integrity.”
The lawsuit takes issue with Chipotle’s claim that its menu is free of GMOs. It alleges that the company’s meat and dairy products come from animals raised on GMO feed. Drinks such as soda also contain corn syrup derived from GMO corn. The complaint says Chipotle doesn’t disclose this information in its restaurants or on its menus.
Chipotle representatives have called the lawsuits “meritless," but refused to speak to Legal Newsline.
GMOs have been the subject of debate in other government branches and in the public sphere, with two sides facing off about whether food containing genetically engineered ingredients should be labeled. While the courts, if they’re consistent, could address companies’ statements about their products, these cases are not likely to result in standards, Roberts said.
“The litigation will signal to companies that their statements are being critically analyzed, presumably leading to more care and attention by companies to ensure that they can document and establish that their products are in fact GMO-free,” he said.
“However, I don't believe that the judiciary can accomplish what can only be done by legislation: creating standards for the marketing of food as GMO-free.”