BEEF Daily

Chipotle’s “Beef” With American Beef Frustrates U.S. Ranchers


Chipotle is now sourcing beef from Australia after stating that U.S. beef producers can’t meet demand for its “Responsibly Raised” beef standards. However, I think the chain is simply unwilling to pay American ranchers the premium they need to stay in business and is looking for a way out of forking over the cash for record-high beef prices in the U.S.

As if I needed another reason not to eat at Chipotle, the burrito chain, which champions its products as “Food With Integrity,” has given me another. Recently, Steve Ells, Chipotle Mexican Grill founder, chairman, and co-CEO, penned an op-ed piece for the Huffington Post, explaining how the company will now be sourcing its beef from Australia.

Hey, it’s America. Businesses have the freedom to build their businesses the way they want, and Chipotle has every right to purchase beef from whomever it would like. However, it’s the way Ells justified the recent switch to Aussie meat that has U.S. ranchers a little perturbed.


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Ells writes, “When it comes to beef, for one thing, there are many different ways to raise cattle -- from conventional (with antibiotics and hormones) to the higher standards we require for our Responsibly Raised brand beef (without antibiotics and hormones), and from grain-finished to entirely grass-fed cattle. Over the years, we have had great success serving the premium beef we call Responsibly Raised, which is produced according to high standards requiring, among other things, that animals be raised without hormones or antibiotics. But lately, we have been wrestling with a particularly vexing issue regarding this beef. Over the last five years, as our restaurant count has grown from about 800 restaurants to more than 1,600, so have our demand for all of the ingredients we use. Sometimes the existing supply of the premium meats we serve is unable to meet our growing demand.

“On occasions when we are unable to secure sufficient quantities of a particular Responsibly Raised meat, we temporarily replace it with a conventionally raised alternative -- always informing our customers about this substitution with signage in our restaurants. This has been the case recently with a portion of the steak we serve, as the size of the total U.S. cattle herd has shrunk to its lowest point in more than 60 years. Rather than serve conventionally raised steak, we recently began sourcing some steak from ranches in Southern Australia, which is among the very best places in the world for raising beef cattle entirely on grass.”

My problem with Ells’ logic is that by promoting his “Responsibly Raised” brand of beef that he prefers, he basically tells American consumers that eating conventionally-raised beef is irresponsible. He insinuates that traditional beef is full of hormones and antibiotics, and sourcing beef that has been raised with “integrity” is incredibly difficult in the U.S., which couldn’t be further from the truth.

READ: "Farmed And Dangerous" 

Admittedly, Ells was right in that the nation’s cowherd is at a record low; however, my guess is there are plenty of ranchers in the U.S. willing to help Chipotle meet its demand for grass-fed, natural beef, if only Chipotle was willing to pay the premium. I think this is Chipotle’s way of not having to pay the current record-high prices for beef in the U.S. Instead, the chain would rather ship its beef in from the other side of the globe and claim it’s superior to what we can raise in the U.S. How’s that for local and fresh beef? And what about the global footprint of shipping that beef from overseas?

Texas Ag Commissioner Todd Staples shares his frustration, stating, “Texas is home to the nation’s largest cattle herd and nearly 249,000 farms and ranches that cover an astounding 130.2 million acres. We have a wide variety of producers and processors. It seems foolish to discount these immense, local resources when making decisions about where to source your beef.”

The Texas Department of Agriculture has gotten social in the discussion, recently tweeting, “Chipotle plans to import beef from Australia. 8,000 miles doesn’t seem local to us. #LetsTalkBeef”

Additionally, on, there is a really great article entitled, “Need Responsibly Raised Beef? Call Us.” The article features two California ranchers -- Darrell Wood, who raises organic, grass-finished beef, and Darrell Sweet, who raises conventional beef. In a unique interview, they contrast and compare their operations and both extend an invitation to Chipotle to call them to discuss how they could help supply beef to the burrito chain.

Read the entire interview here and share it on your social media channels.

Do you have a beef with Chipotle sourcing steak from Australia? What do you think about Ells’ assertion that conventionally-raised beef isn’t “responsible” and lacks “integrity?” Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of or the Penton Farm Progress Group.


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Discuss this Blog Entry 17

Frank Schlichting (not verified)
on Jun 25, 2014

This is the natural evolution of branded beef programs. Every other sector is also slinging mud at their competitors whats the difference here?
As you pointed out Chilipotie has the right to source beef from anywhere they want. Luckily we can also source our lunch anywhere we want if we don't agree with their ethics or lack thereof.

LivestockLit (not verified)
on Jun 25, 2014

Everything Chipotle does is absolutely ironic to me. They want to feed their customers "responsibly raised" meat, which they imply is healthier than its counterpart...what is healthy about Mexican food and burritos in the first place?? Absolutely one of the most manipulative marketing scams out there.

Slayter (not verified)
on Jun 25, 2014

It really disappoints me that Chipotle is now sourcing from Australia. Especially after their past advertising that promoted the support of local farmers. I think that if they want to keep their brand image they will start looking now for local sources of beef.
To your other questions, I think raising "conventional" meat is unethical and does lack responsibility. And I don't blame the farmers. But it's farmers that are going to have to take the initiative, one at a time, to switch back to a grass-based, rotational cycle for raising cattle. Of course, some help from our government (FDA, USDA) would make it easier and more economically feasible for solo farmers to do this. Nevertheless, raising conventional beef is harming the environment and is a leading cause in the obesity and disease epidemics that plague America.

LivestockLit (not verified)
on Jun 25, 2014

I would be interested in hearing your belief of why conventionally-raised beef is irresponsible, considering it takes less inputs to raise grain-fed cattle.
People choose what they put in their mouths, not farmers. Raising conventional beef isn't the leading cause of obesity and disease epidemics, it's people who overeat and choose to lead an unhealthy lifestyle. You can't pinpoint that large of a problem on raising grain-fed beef.

Anonymous1 (not verified)
on Jun 25, 2014

Conventionally raised is not raised, treated or slaughtered humanely. The hormones and antibiotics that are pumped into americas food supply cause our children to reach puberty prematurely support the evolution of antibiotic resistant bacteria and viruses. The preservatives just generally interfere with the way our bodies process things. Cows do not eat grain in the wild why should they now?

Anonymous Beef Farmer (not verified)
on Jul 2, 2014

1. hormones and antibiotics are pumped into hogs and poultry routinely, not beef
2. antibiotic resistance stems from human and doctor use
3. cows are not "wild" animals; they are domesticated and utilize grain from farms that are not suitable for producing vegetables, etc.

on Sep 2, 2015

Growth promotants are not used in swine or poultry. They are commonly used in beef. Regardless, they are safe, effective, and economical.

Plmatt (not verified)
on Nov 4, 2014

I love how half informed people are. Do you really think cattle don't eat grain in the wild???? Turn cattle loose in a wheat field and see what happens. They love grain. If cattle have a free choice option...they will eat grain and grass. Saying cattle will not eat grain in the wild is a lie.

Ed (not verified)
on Jun 25, 2014

Chipotle can buy beef 8,000 miles away from the USA. And there are many "OTHER" places to eat, so stop going to Chipotle. I am a USA beef producer and I will not ever stop at a Chipotle again. BUY AMERICAN and also AMERICAN BEEF

Anonymous1223 (not verified)
on Jun 28, 2014

I'll buy american when you start treating the animals with respect and stop pumping them full of harmful hormones. Good for Chipotle! They have standards and they sticking to them!

A nonomous (not verified)
on Jun 25, 2014

I recently visited a chipotle because they posted the serving of traditionally raised beef. Now they have lost me, again.
We have a similar restaraunt nearby that serves fresh meat, in lieu of an overseas shipment of meat.

maxine jones (not verified)
on Jun 25, 2014

I don't understand why some people persist in the absolute lie that all conventionally raised cattle are pumped full of hormones, antibiotics, or any other purchased material. Nor why so few producers don't bother to call them on the lies. My family raises more than 1000 head of cows on native range pastures at the rate of about 25 acres per cow and her calf for a year. The calves are raised on that grass, along with the cows, till after weaning, then at about 8 months of age move into our backgrounding lot. There they eat the hay we raise, comprised of native grasses and forbs, a little alfalfa, and a small amount of grains and minerals. At possibly one year of age, they are sold and go to a conventional feedlot where they are in pens with plenty of space to move about and interact normally with other cattle while eating a feed comprised of (again!) grass hay and some corn and other grains. Far from a corn diet! They are treated with routine injections of the type people give their children to protect them from childhood diseases. They may, or may not, be given some ionophofores to stimulate the development of more muscle and less fat on their carcasses. They will be processed very humanely in a processing plant at generally less than 20 months of age weighing slightly less than the mature weight of their parent animals, or around 1500 pounds. Many of them will be top quality beef, a few will, for various reasons, fail to grade high choice or prime, and may be a little less tender, but it all will be tasty, wholesome, residue free beef! Chipotle would be very fortunate if they were able to buy it! However, it is apparent Chipotle does not want to pay the premium prices our beef bring. Sorry for their customers! Ranchers are very quick to give the markets what they are willing to pay for. If Chipotle chooses to go thousands of miles further to pay less for beef, so be it. Our nation, and their customers are the losers in that scenario, IMO.

W. E. (not verified)
on Jun 26, 2014

Maxine, we applaud your management, up until the time you send the calves to the feedlot. With so many cattle, you could probably just tweak your grazing techniques and control their environment and management right up until slaughter, which would make them eligible for any grass-fed beef slaughtering facility or endpoint. You would probably need to keep them on your best grass, or an irrigated pasture with some legumes, to the age of 24 to 30 months. You don't say where you are located, but wintering them on hay and winter annuals would work in many areas of the U. S., if your environment and weather will allow. Our herd is much smaller, so works better as direct-marketed custom beef. Our local customers want local beef raised entirely on forages. They don't want beef that has been fed ionophores or anything else foreign to the natural bovine diet of high-roughage ratios. In our experience, with our breed, ionophores and implants affected beef quality adversely. We give our customers what they want; the cattle need absolutely no hormones or ionophores to finish at a reasonably young age. The steers help pay their way by providing nutrients that enrich the soils of our farm during the entire span of their lives. Transportation expenses are minimal. With no co-mingling of cattle from different farms, antibiotics are needed only in the very rare incidence of actual sickness; very little chance of illness means very little need for more than minimal vaccination when they are weaned. The bottom line is much better than when we shipped our backgrounded calves away to be fed in a distant feedyard.

MarkP (not verified)
on Jun 26, 2014

I think this article would be a lot more convincing with a stronger argument that US suppliers are actually capable of meeting Chipotle's demand for grass-fed beef. After maligning the idea of 'responsibly raised' beef, you give three arguments on this point: 1) a guess (without any evidence) that there's ample US supply, and that the real problem is the premiums, 2) an anecdotal example of an individual supplier who raises grass-fed beef (but obviously could not individually service chipotle's demand), and 3) a vague claim from Texas Ag about a 'variety of products.'

If it's the case that the US actually can service this demand, a stronger argument would actually make this point. If you think there's ample supply, a better argument would 1) estimate this quantity, 2) justify this estimate, and 3) argue that this outstrips chipotle's demand. Your article takes a totally different tact, by giving an anecdotal case, but making no credible claims about the sufficiency of this market sub-group.

In short, this article seems more like an ad homonym polemic than a well-argued position piece.

WilliamC (not verified)
on Jun 26, 2014

If they can import beef from Australia for less money that makes complete business sense. Why does an American rancher need a premium price when an Australian doesn't. Sounds to me you don't like outsourcing of ranching jobs. I'll bet when factory jobs were moving overseas you said "they want to be paid too much doesn't make sense to keep those jobs here.". Now that it is your livelihood it's not so funny.

on Jun 27, 2014

After reading the article, I have to agree that it was indeed written in a somewhat untactful manner. Yes, they own their business and they have every right to purchase from any supplier all around the world. However, by saying that Aussies beef was produced more responsibly just hits the bull's eye on the target of American farmers. America itself is huge, made up of thousands of farmers with productive storage barns and why is Ells so certain that there isn't a single one of them farmers who is "responsible" enough? Enough said.

maxine jones (not verified)
on Jul 2, 2014

To answer the q. as to why we don't produce grass fed beef.....I maintain that we do! Our cattle may be supplemented a bit with grains, minerals, times in order for the animals to have an optimum diet for the weight we want to them to reach to achieve their genetic potential, but the majority of the diet is grass! Medications are used as necessary to keep the animals healthy. We live in western SD, originally called a part of the Great American Desert......which I believe is quite accurate. In 'average' years, if there is such a thing, we get about 14 inches of precipitation, most of which fortunately for us, comes during our four month growing season. We CAN get five months, but can't count on that being frost free. Irrigation is out of the question where we live. No groundwater, no lakes, etc. available. Winters can be mild, or severe. We can get very cold windy weather and temperatures can go as high as 117% in summer, and -58% in winter, that I've witnessed in my 74 years. Wind chills can be brutal. Yet, with adequate native grass pastures, cattle can do well grazing all winter, though they may need some supplemental feed to provide enough energy to keep their bodies warm. We believe in working with what we have, climate wise, to do the best job we can of raising high quality beef using the best of modern production methods along with old fashioned cattle stockmanship.

I do not "malign" the idea of "responsibly raised" beef! I think people like me exemplify it I have no problem with Chipotle outsourcing their beef to fit their budget, but please! don't try to tell us it is solely to procure something special for customers because USA producer will not come up to their standards. Yes, beef cow numbers in the USA are down, but I do believe we are producing far more pounds with those fewer cows because we have genetically improved the animals so that they are larger individually, to the point the tonnage is amazing. Those wondering why "American ranchers need premiums when Australians don't" should compare costs between the two nations for raising cattle. I believe the USA has one of the worlds highest tax rates, and likely other costs for the land, growing the feed, and family living are proportionately high, here as well. Ranching definitely is not a "get rich quick, or easily" business. We have been at it for 57 years, with a bit of a boost from previous generations, and finally believe we may not leave our kids deep in debt when we die, if we go soon enough

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BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”


Amanda Radke

Amanda Radke is a fifth generation rancher from Mitchell, S.D., who has dedicated her career to serving as a voice for the nation’s beef producers. A 2009 graduate of South Dakota State...

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