Chipotle’s Transparent Laziness

Some time ago, Scout wrote a post about Chipotle’s cups, which make the audacious claim that their pork is made with “no animal cruelty.” They seem to make similar claims about their other meats as well, and no doubt for their dairy products, too.

Now, I could just simply state something sardonic like “someone should let them know that all the animals end up dead,” seeing as how there is virtually no other context in which killing something unnecessarily is considered not cruel. That would be satisfying, and a little bit funny, but it would also be too easy. Instead I’ll talk about my struggle to learn more about what, exactly, “no animal cruelty” means to Chipotle.

I decided to do some digging on Chipotle’s website and elsewhere. What I found were lots of claims and little to no evidence, despite their proclaimed commitment to transparency.

Their “food with integrity” page states that their pigs are able “to freely root and roam outdoors or in deeply bedded barns.” (It’s a safe bet that the most common arrangement comes after the “or.”) “We do it for farmers[,] animals[,] the environment[,]” reads the page, without a hint of sarcasm. They try to distance themselves from factory farms: “We source from farms rather than factories.”  The page also contains the claim that they “set minimum space requirements for the animals producing the meat and dairy products that end up in our restaurants. We work with our suppliers to ensure the highest possible animal welfare standards, and are always setting the bar higher. If, due to supply shortages, we have to serve conventionally raised meat, we clearly post signs in the affected restaurants.” I’ve been to more than a few Chipotles (it’s something of a guilty pleasure) where those signs have remained for months.

They also take a stance on antibiotics: “Antibiotics and hormones are given to a majority of livestock to increase production and combat the effects of overcrowding. We buy meat from farmers and ranchers who raise their animals without subtherapeutic antibiotics and added hormones. If an animal falls sick, our protocols require that farmers bring them back to health in the most responsible manner possible.”

Notably missing from their standards: tail docking, branding, debeaking, and gestation crates. They also mention a future commitment to improving welfare for their chickens by providing more space, improving living conditions, and changing their slaughter standards to “a manner that utilizes a multi-step controlled-atmosphere processing system” (whatever that means) — meaning that they don’t currently abide by those standards.

Another thing that bothered me was this advertisement (below) Chipotle created a few years back. It shows a scarecrow, depressed by the state of the food system — unhappy animals, low-quality ingredients — inspired to make things right. So he started what is an obvious allusion to Chipotle: a restaurant that by implication raises happy animals and only the freshest ingredients — though they don’t show the animals in this Brave New World (presumably because they still end up dead).

Words are one thing and actions are quite another. Not satisfied with their mere stated commitments to milquetoast animal welfare standards, I emailed with an inquiry: “Are there any reports or other documents you can provide me concerning the welfare standards you set for suppliers? Do you have a detailed breakdown of what those standards are? I notice that you have auditors that inspect farms to ensure they are keeping up with the standards. Do you have any reports about compliance/noncompliance? How often are the inspections?”

Their response: radio silence.

Weeks later, I followed up: “Are you able to provide me any information at all?”

Silence, again.

This flies in the face of Chipotle’s aura of transparency. They’re latching onto a sort of populist movement — beneficial overall, no doubt — that demands openness and accountability in all things, but particularly in animal agriculture. The problem is that Chipotle is trying to have their cake and eat it, too: ostensibly transparent, without the hard work.

I’m under no illusions. Chipotle is a large company, and as a fast-casual restaurant that trafficks primarily in meat and animal products, we shouldn’t pretend that such an endeavor can be done without cruelty and environmental degradation.

But Chipotle shouldn’t pretend either. That’s why we are demanding that they #DropTheCup and stop making claims that they cannot support.

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