Chipotle’s beef with America or America’s beef with Chipotle?

Chipotle's beef with America or America's beef with Chipotle?Once again a Chipotle Mexican Grill story came flying through my newsfeed. In case you've been living off the grid lately, the burrito company has been causing quite the stir.

Fast facts:

The company-owned restaurant chain has expanded to more than 1,600 stores across the U.S. and Canada, headquartering out of Denver, Colo. They promote their "Food With Integrity" (FWI) program, which includes naturally raised beef and pork from animals on a vegetarian diet. These hormone and antibiotic free animals are only raised in "humane" ways.

"We've put a lot of work into poking, prodding, convincing, and occasionally applying guilt to ranchers in order to get more and more suppliers to meet our naturally raised standards," says the website.

Because so many ranchers don't raise their animals right and sometimes need a little guilt to get them to change their destructive ways.

Earlier this year, they funded the "Farmed and Dangerous" mini-series, a classic tale of good vs. evil. The villains, without surprise, are "big food" corporate bullies stopping at nothing to make a buck, aka Chipotle's view of modern agriculture. Admittedly, I only watched half of the series because I had better things to do with my life than to analyze a dull story line full of propaganda.

And while I'm too scared to test it out, I'm fairly certain if you play "Farmed and Dangerous" backwards it'll put you into a trance, causing you to go on a burrito buying rampage.

Let's not dwell on the past though.

Instead, let's talk about Chipotle announcing its plans to start sourcing grass-fed beef from Australia because conventional beef raised by their own countrymen is not up to par with their top-shelf standards.

"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," says Steve Ells, Founder, Chairman and Co-CEO of Chipotle Mexican Grill. "But lately, we have been wrestling with a particularly vexing issue regarding this beef."

The vexing issue being their U.S. resources for beef to fit their Responsibly Raised and FWI standards are not enough to keep up with demand, and they've had to result in serving their customers conventional beef (insert gasp of horror here). In all fairness, they had their customers" best interest at heart, until it meant put out a product or lose a sale.

On one hand, Chipotle should be recognized for finally stepping up and sticking to its core values when it comes to serving hormone free beef. On the other hand, I'd like to point out they've put themselves in an even bigger conundrum – say maybe one that involves a company touting environmentally friendly practices and the importance of locally grown products, while shipping grass-fed beef literally halfway around the globe to a Chipotle near you.

How does that saying go again? Oh yeah, now I remember. "You can wish in one hand and crap in the other; see which one fill up quicker." Looks like Chipotle has been doing a little of both, but more of the latter.  

In a recent Huffington Post editorial, Ells said, "Even though our loyalty to American ranchers is strong, rather than meet the shortfall with conventionally raised beef from cattle treated with growth hormones and antibiotics, we decided to take this opportunity to start sourcing more truly grass-fed steak." He continued, "Returning to grass-based farming systems for cattle is a core component of our long-term vision. Most livestock today spend much of their lives in conditions far from the natural ecosystems in which they evolved. Rather than doing what cattle do best, which is using the unique biology of the rumen to convert grass to protein, most cattle spend the latter part of their lives in feedlots, where they are fed grain like corn and soy. (There's also evidence suggesting that grass-fed beef is healthier for the people who eat it, and when managed properly, easier on the environment.)"

Well, since we're on the subject of responsibly raising beef, let's talk about working with the environment to feed 9 billion people by 2050 with shrinking agricultural resources. Here's a recap by Dr. John Comerford of Penn State on a grass-fed vs. grain-fed study:

"On the environmental front, studies by Yan et al (2009) in Ireland used growth chambers to evaluate the greenhouse gas emissions from cattle with varying levels of forage and grain in the diet. Coupling these results with a 30 percent increase of harvest age of grass-fed cattle compared to grain-fed, it becomes clear there is a 500 percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions for each pound of beef produced from grass-fed compared to grain-fed cattle. Uncontrolled nitrogen and phosphate release to the environment, 35 percent more water use, and 30 percent more land use for grass-fed cattle compared to grain-fed increases the environmental impact of strictly grass feeding."

Ok, so maybe your Australian grass-fed beef is a tad bit leaner. Congratulations, your customers can confidently Do a Dallop of Daisy on their 1,000+ calorie meal. 

Getting to the point – I'm not very impressed with the tactics Chipotle has shown not only in the last few month, but past near decade. They build a marketing plan based on "integrity" and "responsibility" while preaching about being environmentally friendly and supporting the local family farmer – then turn around and pull this stunt.

But this is America – land of the free and home of the brave. A beautiful place where we have the right to choose what dining establishment we frequent and if our meat comes corn-fed, grass-fed, hormone free, well done, rare, or with gravy. And if a company wants to import products from another country, then by all means they can do it ‘til the cows come home.

Personally, I prefer supporting a company that doesn't contradict its own values and promotes actual responsibly raised beef.

Here's the link to Ells full statement about Chipotle's grass-fed plan. I encourage you to read it and respectfully defend your industry and your own responsible practices.