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GMOs, Herbicides, and Chipotle.

Recently some of us were musing on the issues of GMOs, and what the proposed labels do and do not tell you. At Biofortified, we discussed that in the post tweeted here:


  1. We noted in the discussion that just because something isn't GMO, it doesn't mean there are no herbicides used in the production of the plant. Many people are unaware that herbicide tolerance (HT) existed before GMOs, does not require GMOness, and is used to cultivate many crops including non-GMO canola, non-GMO sunflower oil, and more. But if you are banning GMO HT soybeans from the menu, are you actually eliminating the use of herbicides? Perhaps not.

    But let's ask Chipotle. They've made a big deal about getting rid of GMOs in their menu. Here's what they say about their choice on their website ( ):

    "Our goal is to eliminate GMOs from Chipotle's ingredients, and we're working hard to meet this challenge. For example, we recently switched our fryers from soybean oil to sunflower oil. Soybean oil is almost always made from genetically modified soybeans. Sunflowers, however, have not yet been genetically modified, thus making sunflower oil a great non-GMO alternative."

    But the question was--are these sunflowers HT--that is, carry the herbicide-tolerance trait? It's not clear from their information page. So, we asked.
  2. That story at NPR describes the kind of sunflowers that I expected were being used for the oil. It's a good story about how some herbicide-tolerant sunflowers were developed. And how pleased farmers were to have access to them.

    "Today, commercial sunflowers from North Dakota to Turkey contain this genetic trait, and many sunflower growers rely heavily on ALS inhibitors to control their weeds."

    So it seemed a reasonable question.
  3. Ok, fair enough--I can wait while this research happens. In the meantime, others note that they have been trying to get similar information, unsuccessfully.
  4. But I figured I'd wait a bit and ask again, figuring the research could take some time. So a week after the initial inquiry, there was a response:
  5. So there we have it. The non-GMO oil is from herbicide-tolerant sunflowers. I have no problem with this. I like sunflowers and if farmers can improve their efficiency and workload with this trait, it's fine with me. Others, though, have not been so keen on these in the past. In France there was an issue....

    Whether this is "natural" is another question. Could be produced by chemical mutagenesis:
  6. This fact disturbs some people.
  7. Well, yeah, but the French are something of a special case on this issue, I guess.

    But what about this HT sunflower trait--a weed scientist has some further information--what is the trait likely to be?
  8. So--wait, what? These herbicides have resulted in more superweeds? Alas.

    To summarize the key issues, check out this handy table.
  9. Is there anything to worry about from this trait? No--not at all.
  10. Agree it's equally safe. But if you are removing GMOs from your menu because of concerns over herbicide use, this doesn't get you there. Jes' sayin'.