California Court Curbs Chipotle GMO Case
In 2015, Chipotle Mexican Grill launched a nationwide advertising campaign premised on the chain’s pledge to serve food made only with non-genetically modified (GM) ingredients. However, the company continued to serve meat and dairy products from animals that consume GM crops, as well as beverages with GM ingredients (e.g., sodas with corn syrup from GM corn). A class action lawsuit was filed against Chipotle in the “Food Court” (Northern District of California), based on allegations that the chain’s non-GM advertising campaign violates California consumer protection, false advertising, and unfair competition laws.
On February 5, the lawsuit was dismissed. The judge found that the plaintiff had failed to specify that she purchased food in the “GM” categories (i.e., meat, dairy, or soft drinks) and thus failed to connect economic injury to the allegedly deceptive claims. In the dismissal order, the judge also questioned the plaintiff’s allegations that a reasonable consumer would interpret Chipotle’s non-GM ingredient claims to extend to meat and dairy products derived from animals that never consumed any GM ingredients.
Although the plaintiff in this case may file an amended complaint in the future, the dismissal suggests that the court may be looking for additional support for the notion that reasonable consumers hold the same strict interpretation of non-GM claims. Even Vermont’s GM labeling requirements provide exemptions for animal products derived from animals that consumed GM crops, which suggests that it might be an uphill battle to establish that such products should themselves be considered “GM.”