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Chipotle sued over false GMO-free claims

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Has Chipotle been misleading consumers with its non-GMO ingredient claims? (iStock)

A law firm Monday filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court charging that Chipotle's marketing is misleading and deceptive because it still sells lots of foods made with GMOs, despite claims the chain phased them out.

The law firm of Kaplan Fox & Kilsheimer filed the suit on behalf of all California consumers who purchased food products from Chipotle between April 27, 2015 and the present.

In April, the Mexican style fast food chain announced that it had completed phasing out all GMO ingredients. 

Colleen Gallagher, a plaintiff represented by Kaplan Fox & Kilsheimer, says the chain is in violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act because deceptive food labeling deceived diners into paying more for their food, reports Reuters.

"As Chipotle told consumers it was 'G-M-Over it,' the opposite was true," Gallagher said. "In fact, Chipotle's menu has never been, at any time, free of GMOs."

Among other things, the complaint alleges that Chipotle serves meat products that come from animals which feed on GMOs, including soy and corn, that its sour cream and cheese ingredients come from dairy farms that feed animals with GMOs, and that Chipotle sells soft drinks that are made with corn-syrup—a GMO.

Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold declined to discuss details of the case but told Reuters that the restaurant chain plans to contest the lawsuit.

On its website, a disclaimer in the FAQ section acknowledges the chain has little control over the source of the entire supply chain.

It reads: “Due to the potential for cross-contamination in fields, facilities or during shipping, it may be that trace amounts of GMOs are present in our food from time to time” and elaborates that "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." 

The disclaimer also reiterates that the chain uses the phrase “non-GMO” rather than “GMO-free” in its marketing.

Gallagher says that the typical Chipotle customer is unlikely to see the Internet disclaimers and will thus be willfully mislead by the brand’s general advertising.

UDATE: Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold told Fox Business.com that the company never claimed all their food was GMO-free, and reiterated that the chain plans to fight the "meritless" suit in court.

“This lawsuit is meritless, and the complaint against Chipotle is filled with inaccuracies. We have always been honest and transparent with our customers, and the messaging surrounding our use of non-GMO ingredients is no exception,” Arnold told FOXBusiness.com.

“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." 

Regarding the lawsuit itself, Arnold added, that it "blames us for graphics that we did not create or authorize. As we have said, it remains true that all of the ingredients we use to make our food are non-GMO. We will vigorously defend this meritless and unfair claim."