When it comes to selling food, some brands have adopted fear mongering and an elite moral idealism. One of the biggest practitioners is the Chipotle burrito chain, which preys on consumer emotion by using campaign slogans like “food with integrity” and “cultivate a better world.”

Despite The Wall Street Journal dubbing Chipotle’s “Scarecrow” campaign as the worst advertisement of 2013, the chain continues to use sensationalism to market its “mostly” all-natural menu. Chipotle’s latest attack on animal agriculture is a video series, “Farmed and Dangerous.”

The series attempts to use humor to depict animal agriculture as willing to cut corners and mistreat animals in order to make a profit. The centerpiece of this overly satirical piece is an exploding cow. I understand that it’s intended to be humorous, but it’s also fallacious and its aim is to poison the public perception of conventional production. Think of what such a outlandish mischaracterization could do to consumer perceptions of human vaccinations, airplane safety or even mother’s milk.

I believe customers have a right to vote with their dollars, and producers should embrace any production opportunity they wish. But does one niche have to be at the expense of demonizing another?

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Chipotle wants to sell its burritos — lots of them — with a side of guilt, and it’s been very successful.

However, Chipotle’s behavior doesn’t totally match its advertising rhetoric. While the company promotes small farmers, all-natural and locally raised beef — which it claims is produced with a higher standard of ethics — the chain can’t source enough of such products to fill demand. So, it relies on the conventional beef industry it demonizes to make up the shortfall. If you’re paying for a Chipotle burrito, you should feel duped.

I’ve only eaten at Chipotle once, and I was appalled to see a kids’ coloring page at my table that depicted a cartoon pig being pumped full of antibiotics. If I were the average consumer, who is two to three generations removed from the farm, it’s understandable I could be fearful about the source and production of the meat I purchased elsewhere. But I know better.

So how should the conventional beef industry respond? One group, the Center for Land-Based Learning (CLBL), is taking action. It recently spoke out against Chipotle, going so far as to cancel a fundraising event with Chipotle.

According to a press release from CLBL, “Chipotle has been a strong supporter of Land-Based Learning programs, and we have appreciated Chipotle’s partnership and enthusiasm for our mission. However, the board unanimously feels that Chipotle’s current ‘Farmed and Dangerous’ mini-series crosses a line by fostering animosity toward production agriculture.

“We disagree with the tone and approach of this new series, which appears designed to divide the agricultural community into big production (inherently malevolent) and small production (inherently virtuous). This is a false choice. Rather than educate the community about where its food comes from, we view the series as pitting some farms against other farms, and inaccurately portraying the overwhelming majority of responsible food production operations.”

Perhaps this is a sign that Chipotle’s creative but misleading marketing campaigns are starting to backfire.

Thus far, the only conversations I’ve seen on social media about this Chipotle mini-series have been among industry peers and colleagues. While I believe we need to address these videos head-on, we shouldn’t give them unnecessary exposure.

But we do need to be ready to answer consumer questions, be proactive about our messaging, and showcase the positives of large- and small-scale ranching operations to help alleviate any guilt our consumers feel. We need to reinstate trust that all U.S. beef — organic, natural or conventionally raised — is safe, wholesome and raised in the ethical, environmentally friendly way our consumers and our cattle deserve. If we don’t stand up, who will?

Amanda Radke is a South Dakota rancher and editor of BEEF Daily.

 

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