HYPOCRISY WITH A SIDE OF GUACAMOLE: CHIPOTLE'S CAMPAIGN AGAINST AGRICULTURE
The taco and burrito fast food chain Chipotle has been in the news a lot in recent years for what can only be described as an attack on modern agriculture. They have not only released new vegan food options (which in itself wouldn't be a problem if they weren't so blatant in their criticism of the meat industry), but also condemned agriculture in several of their commercials, released an anti-agriculture television series on Hulu, and campaigned for the end of needed medication for animals. Their behavior not only shows disloyalty to the industry that makes them money, but seriously puts in harm’s way the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
It is disturbing to note that their marketing strategy is actually working. Through attacking the agriculture industry, Chipotle is now being identified by people across the country as an advocate for healthy food. However, shockingly few have stopped to consider the negative effects of harming food producers, the truthfulness of Chipotle’s claims, or whether this is simply a money play at the health-food crowd and little more.
Although their campaign against agriculture has been a long time coming, things really got serious when they launched their YouTube video “Back to the Start” during the Grammy Awards in 2012. This video was a misrepresentation of farms, the science behind large-scale food production, and medication needed for the welfare of animals and consumers.
Intending to mislead the public into believing that all animal medication is bad and organically labeled food is the only viable option, the video ignores the reality of farms and the necessity of medication. Without the use of medicine to combat disease in animals, humans would be at risk of more than just their herds and flocks dying off, these diseases could be passed on to humans that consumed them, putting everyone at risk.
A later video called “The Scarecrow” also shows a gross misunderstanding of the application of medication on farms. With less than 2% of the U.S. population producing all the food for America and many other parts of the world, it is very important that the animals they use are healthy and that the systems they utilize are efficient.
Life is not a cartoon like these two videos. Life is very real, and so is the hunger that many people feel in their stomachs every night. The U.S. agriculture industry is trying to make this world a little better by providing the food that those people need, and what the agriculture industry doesn’t need is a bunch of fast food chains thinking they have the clout to dictate how food is produced.
Chipotle’s arrogance took them further than just TV ads when they produced a four part online series that satirized the nature of modern agriculture. The series, “Farmed and Dangerous”, did not show a single Chipotle burrito, it was purely produced to create a bad name for farmers. This was just one step too far. We doubt the millions of starving people across the world will find the series quite as funny as a few privileged individuals at Chipotle’s headquarters in Denver. The series is just another example of people misunderstanding the critical need for food, and terrible consequences when it is not produced on a large enough scale.
Perhap their next series should be entitled “It’s Better Than a GMO”, and focus on a mother in poverty who has to watch the forces of starvation and malnutrition take her children and family away from her one by one.
Their radicalism, however, spreads through more than just the marketing department. They have cut out pork in over 1/3rd of their locations. When they added their new organic tofu “Sofritas,” they took out the popular “Pork Carnitas” in many of their stores. They did this because the pork suppliers that those 600 restaurants were using didn’t meet their “animal ethics philosophy,” not because of any real health problems or USDA violations. So what kind of regulations do farms selling to Chipotle have to follow?
They promise to only serve pork from pigs raised “outside or in deeply bedded pens” that are “never given antibiotics and are fed a vegetarian diet.” When an audit of their major supplies showed violations of this standard, they lacked enough meat to continue selling their pork at all of their locations. Yet, they never considered the reason why pig farmers were doing what they thought best and not what they were told. The pens they demanded make the pigs more susceptible to disease and allows the animals to fight and harm one another.
So in essence, they care less about the welfare of the pigs or diseases being passed on to customers, and more about the idea that the pork they sell never had a roof over its head.
This brings us to the negative response from the many in the public, those not easily influenced by the animated dream that Chipotle is trying to spread. After refusing an invitation to sit down with the members of the Animal Agriculture Alliance, the alliance stated that, “It seems that Chipotle wants to live in their fictitious virtual world instead of having meaningful – and real – conversations with the very people that supply their restaurants with food.”
Chipotle’s response? They believe that their video is doing what it is supposed to do, simply because they got that invitation. They claim that the video was meant to spark a conversation about the way food is produced, and help stimulate a change in the food system to make it antibiotic and GMO-free. Well, they did spark conversation, they just weren’t at the table to deny the points made by the generations of farmers who brought arguments against them. However, seeing that they want a conversation, let’s humor them.
Let’s talk food.
Chipotle wants to lead the charge to abolish genetic modification in foods, so what would they be abandoning? First, they would be significantly increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. Due to an increased resistance to pests, foods with genetic modifications need little-to-no pesticides. Over 13 million kg of pesticide has been avoided in the U.S. due to GM foods, which also means less diesel to spray them and less of a negative environmental impact from runoff chemicals and exhaust.
They would also be putting at risk over 100 million children who suffer from vitamin A deficiency and are likely to go blind and die without the needed nutrients. As of now, genetically modified “golden rice” provides them with this vitamin, but according to Chipotle their lives and eyesight do not matter if their savior came from a genetic modification.
That isn’t all; you would also be taking away more than 60% of all processed foods in the U.S. In recent years, after realizing their application increased production, farmers on over 130 million acres of land spread across 13 countries have planted GMOs. We cannot afford to backtrack and put at risk all the individuals that count on genetically modified food. Without genetic modifications, there just wouldn’t be enough food to feed everyone given the current struggles the dwindling farming community faces.
The impact that Chipotle’s ideal society would have would be simply flooring. How could responsible adults and businessmen advocate something that would have such huge negative effects? They can’t, unless they ignore proper scientific research, or perhaps they are willing to throw away the lives of millions just to sell food labeled “organic.” Their recklessness jeopardizes modern agriculture, all for the sake of more money.
So no, Steve Ellis (Chipotle founder), we are not going to sympathize with your efforts. You should stick to what you are good at: making burritos. Stop your attack on modern agriculture so that we can attempt to feed 9 billion people. For your next marketing strategy please take into account the negative ramifications of your actions, and don’t try to harm or change an industry that sustains billions of people.