9.16.2015

Why I Don't Eat Chipotle

I love food. I really love Mexican/Southwest style food. Bring on the burritos, guacamole, and tortilla chips. I'm also a pretty basic (I might as well just own it) sorority girl. "This girl must love Chipotle," you're probably thinking to yourself. Or rather, since you more than likely read the title of this post, you are probably thinking, "Why doesn't this girl like Chipotle?! She totally fits in the Chipotle-demographic!" The reason I don't eat Chipotle boils down to this: as much as I love the type of food served there, I love agriculture more.

You have probably heard of the controversies surrounding Chipotle's advertisement and strong views on agriculture. They released the ad below in 2013, and have since released others justifying their views on the products they serve.



The video is centered around the horrors of "factory farming." One term I despise is "factory farming." Agriculture is a business, it earns money, but no other industry has to be as individualized and scrutinized as agriculture. Factory farming is defined as "a system of rearing livestock using intensive methods, by which poultry, pigs, or cattle are confined indoors under strictly controlled conditions." The way animals are raised is for their benefit. Sure, chickens and pigs may be raised in houses, but chickens and pigs raised outdoors suffer from temperature-related stress and disease due to lack of biosecurity measures. The connotation of "factory" indicates machinery, robots, automatic production. While agriculture may be a highly technological field, nothing about production agriculture is automatic. Nothing about it is robotic or monotonous or cookie cutter. Crops die, animals die, things happen. Cars in the Chevrolet factory don't get sick. They are stamped out over and over again, cut from the same die. No two cows are the same. There is so much more that goes into raising animals or crops than punching out products. Nutrition, soil science, reproductive physiology, environmental regulations, monetary benefit for both producers and consumers. Farmers are the furthest thing from factory workers. They care about their animals and everything they do is for the well-being of the animal. If they didn't, they wouldn't make any money!

In late 2014, Chipotle suspended their first pork producer for failing to meet their animal welfare standards. They choose not to buy pork from conventional hog farms, or farms where pigs are raised indoors. They have began a relationship with a UK pork supplier that raises their pigs "naturally," or outdoors, with a number of other standards. Because of their pork supplier issues, carnitas are not available in many US locations, including here in North Carolina. Chipotle has a graphic on their website indicating pork production practices compared between industry standards, Chipotle pork from the US, and Chipotle pork from the UK. A few things caught my eye when reviewing this information. 

Chipotle requires their pigs to be raised outdoors or in deeply bedded barns. The graphic indicates that standard is required by Chipotle, but is not an industry standard. Pigs are extremely sensitive to heat. They don't sweat and have relatively small lungs. Average daily gain, or the amount of weight a pig gains per day, begins to decrease around 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Research has shown that an average humidity of 30% coupled with temperatures higher than 82 degrees Fahrenheit will significantly affect the intestinal health and performance of grower/finisher pigs. This threshold is even lower for breeding herds. That climate is regularly reached on an average North Carolina day from April through September. NC is the number 2 producer of pork in the US, so it is safe to assume that some of Chipotle's pork may come from NC. Based on those temperature standards for swine health, keeping pigs outside in NC can be detrimental to their well-being. 

The chart indicates that the use of antibiotics to treat illness is an industry standard. Of course it is. They allow antibiotic treatment of disease in their UK pork only when necessary, but not in their US pork. Huh?! Why do they not allow US farmers to treat their sick animals? If your child was sick, you would take him or her to the doctor and get medication. Why does Chipotle not allow that for their US-raised hogs? File that under "things that don't make sense."

Finally, Chipotle lies about their stance on GMOs, or genetically modified organisms. A GMO is a plant that has been genetically changed to be produced more efficiently or otherwise have a trait that it did not previously have. One major example is Bt-corn. Bt-corn is corn that expresses some genes found in a naturally occurring soil bacterium. That bacterium produces some proteins that are toxic to the European corn borer, a pest that ravages corn crops. Bt-corn is safe for human consumption. Lots of livestock are fed corn, that of which is likely Bt-corn since 93% of corn in the US in 2014 was genetically modified. Soy is also GMed. Chipotle has decided not to use GMO ingredients in their food. Fine, every company has a choice in what they choose to use in their products. However, the issue comes in Chipotle claiming that all their products are GMO-free. They indicate here that the meat and dairy they serve may have come from animals who ingested genetically modified feeds. Also, a question I'd like to as Chipotle is, "Is your cheese GMO-free?" Over 90% of cheese in the US is made with a genetically modified enzyme that acts as a coagulant. They contradict themselves in various places on the GMO front. We have a free enterprise system here in America. If a company wants to do something or hold certain beliefs, that is perfectly fine with me! However, I can't get behind a company that lies to their consumers about the products they are being served. 

Ag literacy is a major issue in today's society. Very few people understand where their food comes from or agriculture in general. If a company wants to be an advocate for organic, grass-fed farming, fine by me. Chipotle, however, is spreading the ignorance that many ag students and professionals are fighting against everyday. Personally, my values about agriculture outweigh any restaurant, no matter how good the food might be.

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