There are 830 Chipotle restaurants in the United States and Canada. All of them serve “naturally raised” meat.
That’s their choice, the meat they sell is their business.
It becomes my business, however, when they go on ABC News: Nightline and lie about mainstream livestock production.
In this Nightline episode, Chipotle founder, Steve Ells discusses why his restaurants only purchase pasture raised pork.
Nightline posted the video online and added an additional article.
Here’s the problem: Ells makes the following claims about pasture raised pork that are not backed by any scientific research.
“You can’t breathe in a confinement operation,” Ells.
I have raised pigs myself and visited countless large, confinement operations and yet I have never had a breathing problem.
I realize that hog farms do have a distinct smell, however, all hog farms do: confinement and pasture.
“And its better tasting food by a long shot,” Ells.
This is simply not true.
There is no research backing this statement, however, its impact on mainstream pork producers could be huge.
We have no way to know how many consumers believe the lies that Ells and Chipotle, Inc are spreading.
So what should we as an industry do about it?
Trent Loos has already done a lot by bringing widespread attention to the issue.
I first came across it when Loos posted it on his blog, Truth Be Told.
In keeping with the increasing online transparency that many agriculturalists are trying to maintain, Loos published the letter of concern he wrote to Ells, saying:
“Mr. Ells, I have been at every level in animal agriculture and I can tell you that modern agriculture, through confinement housing, has taken our nation’s food system to the most elite in the world. Today’s farmers produce the safest, most wholesome supply of food with fewer resources impacted than at any time in recorded history.”
Loos is to be commended for making a solid argument both of agricultural fact and basic human integrity.
I strongly encourage you to read the entire letter.
Loos received a response from Chipotle and though he didn’t publish it, he summarized it at the end of his blog post, saying:
“I am pleased to report that I have received a response from Chipotle already but disappointed to inform you that they deny misleading American consumers.”
After reading Loos’ words, it was obvious to me that more of the swine industry needed to speak up. I followed the links he provided to the Nightline article and left a comment.
I then sent the same words to Chipotle, Inc.
I am disgusted with Chipotle and ABC news for lying to the American people.
Here is the truth:
Pigs that are raised “free range” taste NO different than pigs raised conventionally. Pigs who are kept outdoors are plagued with sunburn (which can get infected), bug bites, and often suffer from respiratory illnesses from prolonged exposure to the elements.
Living in mud leads to joint injuries in pigs. The suction created when their legs sink in muddy areas and the try to pull them back up can pull shoulders and hips out of joint. These are debilitating injuries that on a conventional hog farm are prevented by the use of concrete floors.
Because pastured pigs are kept in large groups, they fight over food and water. This creates a “boss hog” who will not allow other pigs the nourishment they need. This natural phenomenon is a major reason why conventional pork producers separate their pigs into smaller groups in order to insure that none of their pigs starve.
Clean water = healthy pigs. Free range pigs drink from mud holes and ingest whatever is in that puddle. Yuck!
Conventional swine operations have state of the art manure handling systems that are regulated by the EPA. These regulations are specifically designed to keep wastes out of groundwater and help farmers dispose of it in an environmentally friendly way (usually in fertilizers, which means less chemicals are spread on cropland). The very few producers who do not take the proper measures to handle their manure are fined heavily by the EPA.
Pastured pigs are not always happy, healthy, or humanely handled.
Please don’t continue lying to the American people. The conventional American pork producer works day in and day out to feed you and your family only the highest quality pork products.
Please allow us to feed those same quality products to your customers as well.
Before I go any further, let me make clear: I am not trying to promote the gap between organic/natural livestock producers and conventional producers.
If you want to raise your pigs on dirt then go right ahead, whatever works for you.
The minute you start telling consumers that your pork products taste better or are raised any more humanely than conventional pork, however, is when I get offended because its simply not true.
By pointing out the “cons” of pasture raised pork, I hoped that Chipotle would realize that this “perfect production method” they were promoting was not necessarily true.
Like Loos, I received a surprisingly quick response that left me even more frustrated.
Thank you for taking the time to write us here at Chipotle Mexican Grill.
We stand by our ABC News – Nightline comments and by our commitment to using the best possible ingredients we can find from more sustainable sources. And we believe what we do is in our customers’ best interests.
The animals raised by our careful suppliers according to our Food With Integrity protocols are indeed happy, healthy, and humanely treated, never given antibiotics or growth hormones, and fed a pure vegetarian diet with no animal by-products. Our pigs have plenty of access to fresh water and food and do not starve. The rare animal raised under these protocols that may become ill or injured for whatever reasons to the point of requiring antibiotic treatment is removed from our programs for good and inserted into a commodity program where they can be treated. We do not have another solution for this issue currently, but we are exploring further options for this for the future. Additionally, most of our farmers who raise pigs for our restaurants along with other crops use the pig excrement for their sole fertilizer, which means even less chemicals have a chance of invading the eco-system, accidentally or
otherwise. We therefore stand by the safety of the food we serve and the belief that food raised this way tastes better.
However, we do recognize that much of the livestock in this country is currently raised using the methods you prefer in your note. We also understand that demand for your particular standards of production remains strong. However, we have decided to take a different outlook on food for the future. As you know, you are entitled to your beliefs, but we hope you know that we are free to do what we believe is best for our customers also. And in this regard, we hope we can agree to disagree.
Now I realize that I am not a livestock behavior researcher. But I have something that I would bet good money that Mr. Stupp doesn’t: experience raising pigs.
Do I own a 1,000 sow hog farm? No.
I have, however, raised my own litters of showpigs. I’ve grown up in and around the pork industry and I’ve visited large operations across the country.
My words to Chipotle were based on personal agricultural experience, something that most consumers do not have.
We as livestock producers, agriculturalists, and consumers have a responsibility to promote the truth about the American food supply.
Please tell Chipotle the truth.
Tell them that conventional American pork is safe, healthy, and humanely handled.