The controversy over GMOs, Chipotle, and Chipotle’s apparent inability to not repeatedly sicken its consumers is utterly fascinating. It should be a case study in every political-psychology textbook, because it has allowed us to watch, in real time, as an issue gets intensely politicized and, in turn, becomes a focal point for all sorts of addled thinking and wild conspiracies.
Let me back up for one minute, because I don’t want to imply that there’s always a clean or straightforward distinction between “objective” and “politicized” thinking. But to the folks who study these questions for a living, there are important gradations. When I wrote about anti-vaccination ideologies a year ago, for example, a couple of experts highlighted to me the fact that anti-vaxxers don’t sort cleanly along political lines, and that the worst thing that could happen would be for it to start to become a political issue. Once we start to think some belief isn’t just correct but is the sort of thing people like me believe, it becomes more personal, more visceral, and tougher to dislodge. If tomorrow anti-vax ideology became a key component of membership in some influential political group, that would be very bad public-health news.
To illustrate this principle a bit further, take an extreme and unlikely example: Assuming you know how to count, if someone puts a small bag of M&Ms in front of you and asks you to write the number of M&Ms in there on a piece of paper, nothing in your brain will bias you away from the right answer: You just count the M&Ms and, assuming you aren’t distracted by all that tasty chocolate, arrive at the correct number. But let’s say you’re a hard-line member of a small religious sect that views odd numbers as evil — stating them aloud or writing them can actually get you kicked out of the community entirely. Then you’re at a disadvantage: You have a 50 percent chance of flubbing what should have been a basic task, because if you arrived at an odd count, you’d have to add or subtract an M&M since people like you just don’t write odd numbers — this is an important part of who you are, and the fact that there are an even number of M&Ms is secondary.
Back to Chipotle: When the burrito giant announced last year that it was (sort of) getting rid of GMOs, it won widespread acclaim from bien pensant environment- and health-focused progressives. Some people, myself included, pointed out that these plaudits were unearned; given the lack of a substantive scientific or environmental case against GMOs (as opposed to certain situations in which they could be used harmfully or improperly, just as traditional agriculture methods can be), this was a bullshit PR move aimed at draping the company in a cloak of good corporate citizenship, especially in light of all the ways eating Chipotle — or eating certain things there at least — is legitimately bad for you. Naturally, Science of Us and other outlets making these sorts of arguments were tarred in various comment sections and blog posts as “pro-Monsanto” and so forth, since to the people celebrating Chipotle’s move it was inconceivable that anyone criticizing that move isn’t in the pocket of their sworn agribusiness enemies (one line of anti-GMO argument is “big agribusiness companies use GMOs, big agribusiness companies are bad, and therefore GMOs are bad” — though this ignores the fact that in some contexts, GMOs help out small farmers a great deal).
Since the announcement, Chipotle has grappled with health emergency after health emergency, all around the country: Many of its customers have been sickened with norovirus, salmonella, and E. coli. Obviously, it would have been preferable for no one to get sick, but these incidents did highlight, in a grim way, the difference between superficial corporate virtue-signalling and actually, you know, making sure your product is safe for your customers.
So how does the anti-GMO crowd interpret all of this? Yesterday, Uproxx highlighted a late December “analysis” article in Natural News by “Mike Adams, the Health Ranger,” which offers up a rather shocking storyline:
After observing recent events involving Chipotle and e.coli, here’s my analysis of the situation: Chipotle’s e.coli outbreaks are not random chance. They are the result of the biotech industry bioterrorism attacks against the only fast food company that has publicly denounced GMOs.
How do we know? The CDC has already admitted that some of these e.coli outbreaks involve a “rare genetic strain” of e.coli not normally seen in foods. Furthermore, we also know the track record of the biotech industry engaging in the most criminal, dirty, sleazebag tactics imaginable against any person or company that speaks out against GMOs.
Doctor Oz, for example, was maliciously targeted in a defamation campaign funded by the biotech industry earlier this year. The onslaught against Oz was initiated because he publicly expressed his support for honest GMO labeling on foods.
There is absolutely no question that the biotech industry will resort to ANY activity necessary to destroy food companies that oppose GMOs. And yes, this includes acts of bioterrorism against Chipotle – something that’s ridiculously easy for biotech industry operatives to carry out with simple, low-cost laboratory supplies sold online at places like Amazon.com.
In my HealthRangerReport.com podcast, shown below, I am now openly encouraging Chipotle’s management to initiate a criminal investigation with the FBI to attempt to identify the sources of this corporate sabotage campaign.
To be clear, what’s really happening at Chipotle is that biotech industry shills are deliberately contaminating Chipotle’s food with strains of e.coli in a malicious attempt to destroy both the reputation and finances of the Chipotle food chain. This act of bioterrorism is entirely consistent with the known behavior patterns of the biotech industry which, for example, engaged in illegal money laundering in Washington state in order to destroy the GMO labeling bill there. [formatting his]
You got that? The biotech companies are so threatened by Chipotle brave stance that they are sticking it to the company by contaminating its customers’ food.
No actual evidence is provided of this astounding claim, nor are any of the perpetrators named, but no matter: This article has been shared one hundred and twenty thousand times on Facebook. This is how a not-insignificant chunk of people interprets Chipotle sickening its customers: as evidence of a conspiracy against Chipotle.
It is bizarre to see the anti-corporate granola crowd lining up to defend the integrity of a corporate behemoth like Chipotle, but there you have it. This is what happens when a given debate becomes so politicized, so tightly wound up in people’s political identities, that common sense and objectivity get tossed into the garbage like a day-old burrito.
In all likelihood, the truth of these health incidents is a lot less spectacular: The investigations, some of which are already under way, are probably going to reveal some level of cost-cutting or sloppiness or miscommunication or corruption — not a heart-stopping conspiracy. To the un-addled, the evidence will be straightforward, the conclusions rather certain.
But if your mind and your political identity are in a place where any criticism of Chipotle, or of anti-GMO arguments, is conclusive evidence of ill motives and corporate evil — well, you’re going to come up with the wrong number of M&Ms.