ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI  — This month,  food chain Panera Bread Co (NASDAQ:PNRA) announced it would remove artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners and preservatives from all its food products by 2016. Now, activists hope the chain will go a step further and follow Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (NYSE:CMG) in swearing off GMOs, too. A new Care2 petition urging the company to eliminate GMO ingredients from their products has been signed by more than 2000 people since launching.


Panera bread

When asked about GMO use on its Facebook page in November 2012, Panera responded, “Currently we can’t say our products are made without GMO ingredients.”

Panera has removed half of artificial ingredients from its menu

Panera Bread Co (NASDAQ:PNRA) says it’s already removed about half of artificial ingredients from its menu, but made no move to cast out GMOs. It cited a commitment to transparency as its guiding principle for the decision to remove artificial ingredients. Care2 petition author Diana Reeves, founder of GMO Free USA, says Panera should take its commitment to health and transparency a step further by eliminating GMOs, too.

“We are very grateful that Panera Bread Co (NASDAQ:PNRA) has committed to removing artificial ingredients from their menu, but GMOs are also artificial and cannot occur in nature,” says Reeves. “These plants are transgenically altered in the labs of chemical companies to be herbicide tolerant or produce their own pesticides. If Panera truly advocates for clean food and wants to positively impact the food system, GMOs should also be removed.”

Panera uses ingredients that could contain GMOs

Reeves points to Panera Bread Co (NASDAQ:PNRA)’s ingredients list as further evidence the chain uses ingredients that could contain GMOs — for example, its broccoli cheddar soup recipe includes hydrolyzed corn and soy protein, sugar, soybean oil, and citric acid, all of which could be genetically modified.

Mexican food chain Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (NYSE:CMG) announced in January it would remove all GMOs in accordance with its “Food With Integrity” philosophy. In an op-ed, Chipotle founder, chairman and co-CEO Steve Ells cited a lack of consensus as to the safety of GMOs as a reason for the decision.

“Genetically modified foods hold out promises that are at best untested, and at worst unrealistic,” he wrote. Before making the decision to actively remove GMO ingredients, Chipotle had listed ingredients likely to contain GMOs on its menu since 2013.

Reeves also believes removal of GMOs will be good for Panera Bread Co (NASDAQ:PNRA)’s bottom line. Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (NYSE:CMG)’s stock soared shortly after it swore off GMO ingredients, despite the fact that the removal led to price hikes.

“More and more health conscious individuals are looking for GMO-free restaurant options,” Reeves says. “Panera will surely be rewarded for a GMO-free menu.”