California resident Colleen Gallagher filed suit in federal court in San Francisco alleging that Chipotle falsely represents its food as GMO-free. Her allegations are that the restaurant chain knowingly mislead diners into paying premium prices for food they thought was of a higher quality. The company posts disclaimers on its website telling customers that the animal feed used to raise the meat for Chipotle is GMO feed and that many of its drinks also contain GMO ingredients. Ms. Gallagher argues that the average customer will never see these disclaimers and that they will only rely on the company’s advertising.
Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. is about to get grilled in California court over its claims that it uses only GMO-free ingredients in its food. Plaintiff Colleen Gallagher filed suit in federal court in San Francisco alleging that the chain’s claims are false and misleading. G-M-No you didn’t, Chipotle!
The restaurant chain made a huge public reveal on April 27 this year as the first national restaurant company to do away with GMO food. The move not only made customers happy (who wants genetically modified burritos? Ew!) and the stock price soared. Unfortunately, Chipotle’s claim to GMO-free fame is not entirely true. Enter Colleen Gallagher.
Ms. Gallagher’s suit alleges that Chipotle ran afoul of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act as its “G-M-Over it” menu is false and misleading. She claims that this false labeling deceived customers into paying an increased price for food they wrongly believed was better for them.
Ms. Gallagher said, “As Chipotle told consumers it was ‘G-M-Over it,’ the opposite was true. In fact, Chipotle’s menu as never been at any time free of GMOs.”
This is a case of read the fine print, sadly. Despite it’s huge advertising campaign assuring everyone that the restaurant’s fare is GMO-free, the disclaimers on Chipotle’s website tell a different story.
That story goes reads, “most animal feed in the U.S. is genetically modified, which means that the meat and dairy served at Chipotle are likely to come from animals given at least some GMO feed.” In addition, the disclaimers say, “many of the beverages sold in our restaurants contain genetically modified ingredients.”
Talk about bait and switch! Which is precisely what got Ms. Gallagher mad enough to sue. Surveys show that customers will pay premium prices for more natural or organic food and food that is less processed. Sales data verify the survey results. Chipotle decided to cut out the middleman, the part called “the truth,” and jump right to the premium pricing. Posting disclaimers that are likely to be overlooked by the majority of the company’s customer base doesn’t make up for the wrongdoing.
Ms. Gallagher agrees. Her assertion is that the majority of Chipotle diners won’t see the disclaimers. Rather, she insists, they will rely on Chipotle’s advertising and the goodwill the company has built over the years. Ms. Gallagher wants class action status for her suit, which asks for unspecified damages.
Interestingly, this may not be Ms. Gallagher’s first time as public watchdog. The same law firm representing Ms. Gallagher handled a suit against Bayer AG in 2014. The suit, filed by a woman named Colleen Gallagher, claimed that Bayer AG misled consumers regarding the health benefits of its One A Day multivitamins. Judge William Orric denied Bayer’s motion to dismiss last month.