On the heels of the announcement that Chipotle is taking tangible steps to be completely GMO-free, they’ve now announced that they’re going to be serving 100% grass-fed beef nationwide.
Unfortunately, the grass-fed cattle won’t be coming from the United States. According to Chipotle spokesperson Chris Arnold, there simply isn’t a consistent enough supply of grass-fed, antibiotic-free, hormone-free beef in the U.S. to meet the restaurant’s large demand.
In response to this revelation, the Texas Commissioner of Agriculture took offense and issued a statement lambasting the restaurant chain.
But I thought Chipotle already used grass-fed beef!
Until last year, the restaurant chain served antibiotic-free beef, but the beef was only grass-fed in certain locations where the local supply of grass-fed cattle could meet a restaurant’s demand.
Then, in the wake of a nationwide drought that decimated the U.S. cattle population, Chipotle was forced to start using conventionally raised beef in the summer of 2013 in order to meet customer demand.
Is Chipotle misguided?
That’s what Texas Ag Commissioner Todd Staples said in a letter dated this past Monday, June 16th.
He called the restaurant chain “misguided” and “irresponsible” for believing that Australian cattle is raised any more responsibly than Texan cattle.
“We have a wide variety of producers and processors,” he wrote. “It seems foolish to discount these immense, local resources when making decisions about where to source your beef.”
While I agree with the sentiment that the more local a food is, the better it is, that’s not Chipotle’s primary concern.
“The restaurant chain doesn’t want beef that’s been shot up full of hormones and antibiotics; instead it’s looking for true grass-fed beef that are free from those foreign substances, and Australia is a leader in that field.”
In fact, Chipotle director Steve Ells defended his decision to use beef sourced from Southern Australia in a recent Huffington Post article using that exact justification:
The meat produced by these ranchers is “grass-fed” in the truest sense of the term: The cattle spend their entire lives grazing on pastures or rangelands, eating only grass or forages (by definition, forages are hay and grass–corn is not forage). It meets or exceeds the husbandry standards set forth by the American Grassfed Association, not to mention all of the protocols we apply to our domestic Responsibly Raised beef. The cattle are raised without added hormones, antibiotics or growth promotants by ranchers committed to humane animal husbandry.
Will Chipotle still serve local grass-fed beef?
In fact, it sounds like it’s their goal to serve entirely U.S. raised grass-fed beef in the future. However, at this point in time, it’s just not possible. Steve Ellis wrote:
While we’re purchasing small amounts of grass-fed beef from American producers like Missouri’s Rain Crow Ranch, most of the U.S. grass-fed beef that meets our standards is simply not produced in sufficient quantities to meet our demand.
Chipotle is under fire from natural food enthusiasts, too.
In a Facebook comment left on Steve Ellis’ Huffington Post announcement about the company’s move to sourcing Australian beef, a representative of Riven Rock Farm wrote:
“We walked into a Chipotle an hour from our mountain farm and saw a sign that stated that Chipotle had to serve conventionally raised beef for awhile until they could find local suppliers. Our phone has not rang. My other grass finishing friends phones have not rang. No emails either. We are a growing operation- with higher standards than Chipotle. I fear Chipotle has outgrown their ability to stay true to their roots. Australia- really?? That’s not a local, sustainable food supply model. The reason is dollars. Big corporations in Australia peddling industrial grass fed beef. Low price points- big margins.”
And another fan of grass-fed beef complained about sourcing from Australia:
“I am ALL for grass-fed beef! I LOVE Chipotle. My problem with sourcing beef from Australia is the fact that is has to be transported in the most environmentally unfriendly way. This stuff can’t go by ocean, right? And even if it does, that means millions of gallons of fuel and refrigeration liquid. That meat won’t be fresh. I would so love to see American farmers go back to the good ol’ days, where animals weren’t hopped up on drugs and hormones. I just don’t see this as an advantageous endeavor for anyone except Chipotle.”
What do you think? Is this a positive move for Chipotle? Or a step backwards?
(photo by futursonic)