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.
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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 anastounding 130.2 million acres. We have a wide variety of producers and processors. It seems foolish todiscount 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 Factsaboutbeef.com, 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.
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 Beefmagazine.com or the Penton Farm Progress Group.
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