Chipotle Mexican Grill (Chipotle) has recently found itself to be the subject of a class action lawsuit filed by California resident Colleen Gallagher in US District Court Northern District of California. The lawsuit alleges that the various GMO-free advertising and marketing claims made by Chipotle for its restaurant foods are false and misleading because Chipotle sells various foods at its restaurants that include GMOs. Indeed, Chipotle has acknowledged that its meat and dairy supplies come from animals that are fed GMO-grains, and that sodas served at Chipotle are made with corn syrup from GMO corn. A link to the Chipotle Complaint can be found here.

The lawsuit alleges Chipotle’s violative marketing practices included, in part, use of print, electronic and billboard advertisements as part of the company’s “G-M-Over it” marketing campaign, GMO-free claims printed on Chipotle restaurant menus, and statements in early 2015 by Chipotle CEO Steve Ellis in support of the company’s commitment to serving GMO-free foods. The lawsuit further alleges that Chipotle’s GMO-free marketing targets consumers who are environmentally conscientious and committed to a healthy lifestyle, as such consumers are considered to be more inclined to pay a premium for foods considered to be healthier and of higher quality. The lawsuit alleges that based on such marketing practices, Chipotle is able to charge consumers a premium for its food products in comparison to “other fast food restaurants.”

The lawsuit alleges Chipotle’s advertising and marketing practices violate several California laws, including the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act, California False Advertising Law and California Unfair Competition Law. The lawsuit requests relief in the form of declaratory and injunctive relief, monetary damages, payment of costs and other forms of relief. The lawsuit also asks the court to certify the case as a class action – the court doing so could result in potentially thousands more consumers joining the lawsuit against Chipotle.

Chipotle has responded to the lawsuit by calling it "meritless". Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold noted the following: "we have always been clear that our soft drinks contained GMO ingredients, and that the animals from which our meat comes consume GMO feed…but that does not mean that our meat is GMO, any more than people would be genetically modified if they eat GMO foods." 

The Chipotle lawsuit is the latest controversy involving use of GMO-free labeling and marketing claims to promote food products. The suit is expected to be closely followed by food and restaurant industry members, as well as by consumers.