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Chipotle Changes Its Tune On Beef

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Chipotle is considering the use of conventionally raised beef to keep up with burrito demand.

Desperate times for call desperate measures. At least that’s apparently what Chipotle is saying with the burrito chain’s move to use “antibiotic-treated” beef in its menu. To the rest of us, that translates into “conventionally raised” beef.

I’ve refused to eat at Chipotle for years now because I disagree with the way it advertises its all-natural, antibiotic-free meats. Instead of promoting an idea that fits a certain market segment, Chipotle prefers to smear perfectly safe product and use fear to sell burritos. Remember that ugly campaign they ran awhile back featuring Willie Nelson?

My one and only Chipotle-eating experience left a bitter taste in my mouth upon noticing a Chipotle coloring page for kids that featured a cartoon pig with a big syringe injecting it in the butt. Despite all that previous talk, however, the hip fast-food Mexican restaurant now seems to be eating a little crow by contemplating the use of conventionally raised beef – for the sake of dollars – in its product. So much for the chain’s lofty principles.

According to Bloomberg Business Week “After years of touting naturally raised meat, Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. is considering changing its standards to allow beef treated with antibiotics into its restaurants amid a supply shortage. The burrito seller is evaluating using meat from cattle treated with antibiotics because of an illness, which currently isn’t permitted to be sold in its restaurants, Chris Arnold, a spokesman for Denver-based Chipotle, said in an e-mail. The company still wouldn’t use beef from animals that had been given antibiotics to prevent disease and promote weight gain, he said.

 “The possible change in Chipotle’s practices comes as U.S. beef production is projected to plunge to a 21-year low next year, threatening higher costs and making it tougher for the restaurant chain to get enough meat to fill customers’ burritos," the article continues. "While Arnold said the motivation for the potential change wouldn’t be to increase its supply of steak, Chipotle hasn’t been able to get enough naturally raised beef to meet customer demand. This year, about 80-85% of the beef sold at Chipotle’s more than 1,500 stores has been naturally raised, compared with almost 100% last year, Arnold said."

 

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Chipotle is rationalizing its possible policy change by claiming that it’s now okay to use antibiotics to treat illness, but it’s not okay to use “copious amounts” of antibiotics to promote better health and weight gain in livestock. Yes, I can tell the difference between the two policies, but I would disagree that the livestock industry uses "copious amounts" of antibiotics. It’s a misconception that particularly annoys me when I consider the use of antibiotics in humans vs. livestock production.

According to Common Ground, “People and their pets use 10 times more antibiotics than our nation’s livestock.”

In addition to Common Ground, which answers many questions about antibiotics here, Meat Myth Crushers also tackles some concerns consumers have about livestock production and antibiotic use, which you can reference here.

What do you think about Chipotle’s potential switch in policy? Does it offer more opportunity for ranchers to meet the needs of this restaurant chain? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

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Discuss this Blog Entry 22

on Aug 14, 2013

I choose to put my money where my mouth is - and for us, we do not eat at Chipotle, nor will we begin to because their philosphy is still not in alignment with ours. I believe that niche marketing is great for agriculture, but I also believe commercially produced ag products are 100% safe - and commercial ag products are where we'll put our money.

on Aug 15, 2013

good, I think most all cattleman seek to raise a safe product. Disease is a part of raising cattle. Cattleman use only the products necessary for the good health of the cattle. After all, all the products cost money and affect the profit from the cattle. So we use as little as we can, and keep our cattle healthy.

W.E. (not verified)
on Aug 15, 2013

We are cattlemen who raise our cattle as cattle are supposed to be raised. On grass. The number that get an antibiotic injection once or twice in their lives have been maybe one in ten to one in twenty over the course of fifty years. Cattle that are raised in feedlots have been routinely getting antibiotics daily in their feed. Feedlotting began in the 1950s, and antibiotics in feed have been common practice for about fifty years. Common use may make it conventional, but it's not normal. Grazing is normal for ruminants. If cattle were kept and grazed at home until slaughter time, that routine antibiotic use would be unnecessary. Antibiotic resistant bacteria and deadly e.coli would not be an issue. People invented these problems and people can fix them. Denying they exist does no good whatsoever.

Marissa (not verified)
on Aug 15, 2013

I personally do not agree that if cattle were to be kept on grass their whole life, preventative antibiotics would not be needed. Salmonella and E. Coli among other pathogens are very prevalent in pastures, especially those that are irrigated. Many calves when born on clover. Yes grass is an extremely important and necessary part of the cattle lives but with the high demand and shortage of beef feedlots are extremely necssary part of the industry in order to continue to feed our world in a timely manner.

W.E. (not verified)
on Aug 15, 2013

No, feedlots aren't necessary, but we would need more well-educated and concerned and energetic people out on the land caring for the pastures and the animals. Look up Allan Savory's TEDx talk on how grazing ruminants can save the world. If you have salmonella and E. Coli in your pastures, they are overcrowded and not getting rest between grazings. In order to change our health, we must take care of our food source. That source ultimately is the soil. It should be covered with plants year around, as much as possible. Ruminants must be allowed to graze those plants, and the land must have time to rest appropriate to climate and rainfall. If you rely heavily on irrigated pastures, then you are not paying much attention to the natural balances your particular climate requires.

Marissa (not verified)
on Aug 15, 2013

I completely agree that our ground needs the upmost care, that it needs to be grazed as well as given a break; however in one of JBS Five Rivers' feedlots in Arizona they have a capacity of 120,000 head of cattle. If you say that all cattle should be put on grass for the entirety of their lives, where should we put those 120,000 head? In a drought that so many states are facing right now, there is no where near enough available grass land with the enough feed to sustain that many cattle. Also, I personally do not "rely heavily" on irrigated pastures, but they are utilized by many in the industry as a secondary place to keep cattle. For example, there are many cattlemen and women that run their cattle in rough country and then bring lets say their replacement heifers down to their irrigated pastures to make sure they are in good flesh before their first breeding season. Now obviously that method won't work for every rancher, but irrigated pastures are utilized by many. And even when taken care of properly there is always a chance of Salmonella, E.coli and other pathogens to become present in those pastures.

on Aug 15, 2013

As a veterinarian, I would disagree that cattle out on pasture receive little to no antibiotics. Depending on the year, and especially this summer, pinkeye can be a huge problem out on pasture. These calves and cows need timely treatment to avoid painful ulcers, ruptured corneas, and blindness. Also, it is not uncommon for some calves on pasture to get scours at some point in their lives, for which antibiotic treatment may be needed and ionophores, whether you consider them antibiotics or not, help keep a lot of animals healthy. I'm not saying that feedlots are healthier places for cattle, but I am saying that just because cattle are out on grass, that does not make them immune from any disease and in certain instances, they need just as much medical treatment as those animals found in feedlots.

W.E. (not verified)
on Aug 15, 2013

The issue is how the grass is grazed. Healthy forage on healthy soil produces healthier cattle. This is especially true when cattle have access to a variety of well-adapted and well-established deep-rooted perennial forages. Every problem we ever had that required antibiotics happened when, for one reason or another, we had not grazed our pasture and rested our land properly. We have also learned to select breeding stock that are resistant to disease by culling animals that get pinkeye, not selecting bulls from cows that have ever had pinkeye, and not keeping cows whose calves do not survive. Yes, in the meantime, we use antibiotics and electrolytes if needed to save the calf’s life. We don't use ionophores; grassfed cattle on well-managed pasture don’t need them. After we began to select breeding stock with better immune function and started grazing them on fresh pasture daily, the incidence of disease became more and more rare. Droughts and floods aside, the biggest problem we had in recent years took place after several of our neighbors used aerial spraying of fungicide on wheat fields adjacent to our pastures. Sir Albert Howard stated: ". . . there will always be some disease, however fertile the soil may be. All we can do is to reduce it at the source by the faithful adoption of Nature's law of return." The current system of producing mass quantities of beef in feedlots ignores that law. So does the feeding of mass quantities of grain. The consequence is disease. We can either continue to treat disease or we can observe Nature’s way and adapt our ways to remedy our mistakes, starting with the soil.

Marissa (not verified)
on Aug 17, 2013

Like I said previously, I agree that the land needs to be grazed and rested properly. However, we cannot just set aside droughts and floods; droughts and floods dictate just how much feed we have to graze and how long we need to rest the land after having cattle on it. So setting aside droughts and floods even for conversations sake is not an option when most of America's cattlemen are facing one of the two right now, especially drought. Also, as I said before, sure it would be great if we could keep cattle on grass for longer durations of their lives; however, due to the droughts, there is no where near enough grass available for all the cattle that are put in feedlots. We do not have enough resources to provide for that number of cattle out on grass, but we can when they are in feedlots. Also, how are we suppose to continue to feed the world without cattle being fed in feedlots? Cattle left to be finished on grass need more time to be considered ready for slaughter compared to cattle that are grain fed in feedlots. So in order to continue to feed our world in a timely manner, feedlots are a must along with antibiotics to keep the cattle, healthy and comfortable.

on Aug 15, 2013

Let's all send our amimals that have been sick but that live to Chipotle's and Keep the ones that have been healthy their whole life for other markets.

on Aug 15, 2013

Tried Chipotle's for curiousity -- fun atmosphere, but will not support a chain that misrepresents our healthy 'non-organic' beef. Consumers must be educated that all beef cattle start out on grass and like ours that is finished in a feedlot -- they are given a specific ration that has been determined by a feed rep that has a Phd in Animal Science. Most beef animals in feedlots eat a much more balanced diet than the general American population. I am very proud of the beef we raise that is safe, delicious, nutritious and raised at a cost that the general population can afford.

Steve C. (not verified)
on Aug 15, 2013

I agree with W.E. The most natural, best flavored, and safest beef is raise on quality grasses and forbs and customers should be encouraged to select beef that comes from animals raised in the manner they see fit. Just because the majority of animals are raised on grain in feedlots, doesn't make it right or conventional. I celebrate the opportunity consumers to choose where their food comes from and how it is raised.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Aug 15, 2013

Actually, they are backpedaling now. Chris Arnold admits that he mistakenly gave incorrect information and that the decision isn't final yet but they're still considering it.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/08/13/211717907/chipotle-changes-a...

shaun evertson (not verified)
on Aug 15, 2013

As you can see by one of the responses (if you can take it at face value), some of our fellow agriculturalists are perfectly comfortable with using smear tactics.

Rancher (not verified)
on Aug 15, 2013

Amanda, how shall we define copious amounts of antibiotics? A fairly high percentage of cattle in the U.S. start receiving antibiotics even before they are born thru medicated mineral fed to their mothers. As calves they have access to the same mineral when they are on grass. Then they move to a feedlot where if they are determined to be "high risk" they are mass treated with a type of antibiotic that can be seen advertised on this very webpage as I type this comment. Also during the duration of the feeding periond they receive low dose antibitics in the feed. Many times 2-3 different drugs at the same time - CTC, Tylan, and Rumencin (Ionophores are classified as antibiotics by USDA, although this is very debatable in my opinion). Then if they become sick they are treated again with a different kind of injectable antibiotic. I am a cattle producer and believe the studies that indicate that there are no residues left over in the beef products produced from these animals. But do how do we even begin to explain this to a consumer???? Very often emotion trumps science in the marketing of any product, our industry is definetely not immune to this.

docseuss (not verified)
on Aug 15, 2013

You guys have one more step to take with Chipotle. Responsible antibiotic use is one. But, in their ingredients statements they are "admitting" that their beef and chicken is GMO. I have now idea how they can claim that by eating GMO corn, it actually genetically modifies the cattle and chickens. But, they are doing it. And someone from the meat industries needs to set them straight on this subject.

on Aug 15, 2013

As the SpokesRunner for the NCBA it is this exact kind of ignorant attitude that I spend every single race and expo I attend while working with a Beef Council or association trying to combat. That somehow, a tiny micron of antibiotics used in a one ton creature for its own health and well-being is somehow inferior to antibiotic free meat.

BKR, PhD (not verified)
on Aug 19, 2013

The reality of all the above discussion is that we feed out cattle in feedlots today. It is today's normal or conventional. I have eaten grass-fed beef, and to me it tastes like deer, gamey. I don't like it, and 80% of beef eaters don't like it either. That is not to say that those raising grass-fed beef are wrong, they are serving a niche market, and capitalizing on it. Exactly the American free enterprise system, but they don't need to point fingers and say corn-fed beef is bad. We are all trying to sell beef, and the reality is that if we tried to raise all beef on grass, there would be cattle grazing New York's Central Park and the lawn of the White House and people would still be starving. There is less and less land available for Agriculture because there are more and more people, but all those extra people need to eat. Marginal farmland is put into row crop production, and that means good grassland is lost, which in turn results in pushing grazing cattle to less desirable pastures. I have lived in Missouri, Alberta, Idaho, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Texas, and the land is different everywhere. Those who are raising grass fed beef mostly are in the South, and if you haven't ever actually participated in production in western states, you need to spend some time out here and see that grass fed beef won't work. Low rainfall means less grass available, and those raising cattle in western states are going to use the grass for their momma cows, not a bunch of steers.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Sep 3, 2013

There obviously is no shortage of ego among beef producers!

Too much attitude of "my way is the ONLY correct way to raise cattle" !

Creating even more unnecessary confusion for consumers is not of benefit to any of us. There are many methods to produce high quality beef, and most likely, none is truly superior to another. Certainly there is room for many and most end with a very healthful product.

Tearing down the 'competition' serves no one well. Research has shown consumers do not like it, either.

Fact is, there are many choices of beef and consumers are better served when they can have choices and better yet if they can find good sources of information such as the Beef Councils and www.beef.org.

on Dec 16, 2013

As a consumer, I think this change that Chipotle is going to take will not affect my eating preferences when it comes to fast food. I totally understand that some businesses would need to make some drastic changes in order to accommodate to their needs in order to survive. Since the number of non-antibiotics meat has reduced drastically in storage, then it is just rational that Chipotle has to resort to antibiotics cows. However, their advertisements and marketing strategies need to change in order to stay on par with their new range of meats.

on Jan 22, 2014

I am still doubtful of the policy change that Chipotle has made when it comes to serving treated beef. Indeed, there has been a decrease in storage of non-treated meat available to big food chains, but that doesn’t mean that you need to resort to something that is somehow artificial. I believe that there are other means to resolve this shortage issue.

DM05 (not verified)
on Jan 29, 2014

We can start by correctly informing consumers that it is not "beef treated with antibiotics" but "beef from cattle that at some point may have been treated with antibiotics." The first quote gives the impression that during or after slaughter beef or cuts of beef are commonly treated with antibiotics, which cannot be further from the case.

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A fifth-generation rancher from Mitchell, SD, Amanda grew up on a purebred Limousin cattle operation in which she and husband Tyler are active. She graduated with a degree in agriculture journalism...

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