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Was Chipotle too busy avoiding the fake dangers of GMOs to focus on actual food safety?

JASON REDMOND/AFP/Getty Images

The news about Chipotle's food safety record keeps getting worse. In recent months, people in California, Washington state, Minnesota, Boston, and elsewhere have gotten sick after eating at Chipotle. On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported another round of infections — five Chipotle customers in Kansas, North Dakota, and Oklahoma.

The run of bad news is ironic because Chipotle has actually spent a lot of time this year thinking about where its ingredients come from. Back in April, Chipotle became the first major restaurant chain to announce that all of its food was free of genetically modified organisms. Many customers saw that as a sign of progress — though others complained that some of its "GMO-free" meat came from animals fed GMO grains.

Yet study after study has found that GMO foods are perfectly safe. While genetically modified food sounds scary to a lot of people, it's been widely available in the United States for about two decades with no apparent ill effects.

So rather than pandering to groundless fears about GMO safety, Chipotle would have served its customers better by focusing on the very real dangers of food tainted with E. coli, norovirus, or salmonella. Theoretically, it should be able to do both, of course, but like any organization Chipotle has limited resources. A dollar it spends guarding against the overblown threat of GMOs is a dollar it can't devote to preventing actual health problems.