Some Farmers on Edge After Chipotle's GMO-free Move

Cropped Photo: proshob / MGN
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Some farmers in Nebraska are on edge after Chipotle made an unprecedented move. The fast-casual chain is the first national restaurant company to use only non-GMO ingredients. Some farmers say Chipotle's move adds to the idea that GMOs are harmful.

A spokesperson with Chipotle says this isn't about good or bad, but about choice, and Chipotle makes their choices based off what they think is best for their restaurants and customers.

Since he was a teenager working on his parents farm in Giltner, Zach Hunnicutt remembers GMOs.

"We've been raising GMOs for close to 20 years, about as long as they've been available," said Hunnicutt.

In a statement Monday, Chipotle Founder Steve Ells said, "There is a lot of debate about genetically modified foods. Though many countries have already restricted or banned the use of GMO crops, it's clear that a lot of research is still needed... While that debate continues, we decided to move to non-GMO ingredients."

That statement doesn't sit tight with Hunnicutt. "To make this big public announcement that kind of implies that the vast majority of farmers are doing something wrong, that's pretty frustrating."

In addition to burritos, Chipotle is known for its "Food with Integrity" mantra. On its website, Chipotle says they make an extra effort in partnering with farmers and ranchers who focus on quality and responsibility. Hunnicutt says differently.

"No farmer has an interest in hurting their animals. Sacrificing their integrity for a dollar. Blending the two, I think, adds to the fear and division around food," said Hunnicutt.

Speaking of fear, Hunnicutt says GMOs aren't harmful. The sweet corn he grows on his farm is GMO and he said there's no downside.

"It tastes better than it used to, it's healthier, it has fewer bugs in it, it's easier to keep weeds away from it and my kids will eat as much of it as we'll give to them," said Hunnicutt. He added he keeps his children away from dangerous things on the farm, including moving equipment, but GMOs aren't dangerous.

Before buying into it, Hunnicutt said he hopes consumers do their own research.

"This goes right along with the Willie Nelson ad," said Hunnicutt, referencing Chipotle's most famous ad featuring a farmer who decides to let his animals roam free set to Willie Nelson's rendition of The Scientist. "It's not helpful to anything except selling burritos. There's a bigger story to be told with our food supply then just Chipotle's view."

From a farming perspective, Hunnicutt and other farmers said GMOs have significantly improved farming for them. They don't have to do as much tillage, use as much fuel and the soil is healthier.