Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Bringing Accuracy and Context
to Animal Journalism


Reality Trumps Chipotle’s Animal Welfare Claims

Chipotle is a fast food company that talks a big game about sourcing animal products from responsible farms. The company’s “food with integrity” slogan assures customers that, “when sourcing meat, we work hard to find farmers and ranchers who are doing things the right way.”

But a careful examination of Chipotle’s animal welfare rhetoric quickly confirms the lack of any hard commitment to the welfare ideals it so breezily espouses. Without going into a systematic analysis of Chipotle’s marketing verbiage, it’s quickly apparent that the most common qualifier anchoring Chipotle to factory farming is this: “whenever possible.” Yes, Chipotle will “work hard” to support welfare standards “whenever possible.”

But these qualifiers have proven meaningless for the once McDonald’s-owned company. In 2013, when the supply of antibiotic-free beef dropped, the company allowed factory-farmed antibiotic-laden beef into the supply chain. As this was happening, the company’ co-founder was telling the media—who acted as scribes—things such as “The more consumers understand the benefits of eating food from more sustainable sources, the more they’re going to expect it from everyone.”

A sinister calculation is at work for Chipotle. On the one hand, it waxes rhetorically about its high welfare standards and this rhetoric serves to improve the company’s popularity. On the other, this intensified popularity means that Chipotle’s demand for meat and dairy will outstrip the supply of meat and dairy available from the farmers it earnestly claims to support.

The upshot is almost criminal: the company benefits financially from a pro-animal welfare reputation while giving the idea a token presence at best in its increasingly expansive supply chain. At the end of the day, if Chipotle needs commodity beef, chicken, or pork, it gets it.

Not terribly far beneath the media scrim, though, some critics are becoming aware of Chipotle’s disingenuous dedication to sustainable and humane animal farming. A rancher named Mike Callicrate, for one, has been on a one-man mission to highlight the disparity between Chipotle’s rhetoric and reality. He demonstrates with compelling evidence that, as Chipotle was trotting out its “Food with Integrity” program it was also buying standard commodity beef from Australia. Others are following the same scent.

And Chipotle, which is as media savvy as a company can be, is well aware that the simmer of truth about its reliance on commodity meat is about to reach a boil. It is thus not at all surprising that, last week, the company, in a move that seemed obviously preemptive, shouted out to an adoring media that it had suspended one of its pork suppliers for welfare violations. The farm was using farrowing crates for sows, but Chipotle prefers “deeply bedded pens.”

The media response—overwhelmingly supportive of a company that would make such a sacrifice—bought the tactic hook, line, and sinker. But in so doing it misses three critical points.

First, this somewhat arbitrary illumination and objection to one farm practicing one tactic that is certainly inhumane hardly means that Chipotle is objecting to a wide range of similar welfare violations necessarily endemic to its rapidly growing supply chain of beef, chicken, and cheese. This company is smart. It knows that a voluntary elimination of one farm will garner the company praise while defusing any journalistic interest in sniffing out Callicrate-type leads to discover what’s happening welfare-wise on the farms supplying its other animal products.

Second, Chipotle’s call-out-a-bad-farm (and keep the farm secret) tactic only serves in the long run to further the aforementioned sinister calculation that the company uses to get rich. As one small-scale and pasture-based pig farmer told NPR, “It’s all about scalability . . . [Chipotle] can find a few hundred farmers to do that, and they have. Can they find a few thousand, or tens of thousands, to feed America? I think that’s going to be challenging.” But the company’s own rhetoric, as noted, only intensifies that challenge.

Third, the company’s profits are hardly going to suffer because a few restaurants cannot serve carnitas. Consumers will not stomp off in protest. Instead, they’ll replace pork with some other animal that suffered, most likely in factory-like conditions, in order to fill a tortilla with 1100 calories of food.

At some point, the media must realize that Chipotle is a fast food chain and that, by virtue of that fact, it will never be able to realize its trumped-up rhetorical aspirations. In fact, the more it articulates those aspirations, the more blatant its hypocrisy will become. Journalists should not stand by and allow rhetoric to replace reality.

Especially from a burrito chain that has a way with words.


10 Comments on Reality Trumps Chipotle’s Animal Welfare Claims

  1. Dear James:

    Once again, you neglect to point out that a big chunk of Chipotle credibility comes from the praise of the chain by animal advocates.

    For example:

    >>“We have applauded Chipotle a number of times,” said Paul Shapiro, senior director of the Factory Farms Campaign for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). “That a company like Chipotle can have a successful business model while not supporting the abuses in the agribusiness industry is a positive sign. Companies ought to be rewarded for helping to reduce animal suffering.”<>The big news of the week is that Chipotle won’t have pork at a third of its locations for some time since they found poor animal welfare at a major supplier. The company stated, “We would rather not serve pork at all than serve pork from animals that are raised in this way.” No carnitas? Try their Sofritas! The company’s doing a nationwide promo on for them on Monday, January 26.<<


    And Paul Shapiro put an endorsement on your book and you support HSUS. It's all so confusing!

    No wonder the media gets confused. It's apparently the case that "animal advocates" get confused as well.


    Gary L. Francione
    Board of Governors Professor
    Rutgers University

    • Soo, is the criticism that sometimes animal rights groups get some things wrong while getting other things right? Because none of that undercuts the point made in this piece. You are right, however, that too many animal advocate groups applaud what (i consider anyway) to be minimal effort in considering animal welfare.

  2. Alas, for some reason, the text I am typing in is getting messed up. The above omits the citation after the first quote and fails to separate the quotes. I emailed you the proper text, which you may enter if you wish.


  3. I lost support of the HSUS when they settled their elephant abuse case against Ringling Brothers due to racketeering charges that were brought against them for paying a witness $190,000 to side with them in the the lawsuit. I lost all faith in them after that because their actions were illegal and they ended up causing more harm to the elephants by destroying any leverage animal rights’ groups had against the circus and claims against elephant abuse. Then the icing on the cake was when Wayne Pacelle the CEO of HSUS stated that no donor funds where used to pay for the settlement which was over 1 million dollars. He seemed to ignore the fact that donors’ money is used to pay for the insurance premiums which directly paid for the cost of the settlement. I have no respect for multimillion dollar groups who say they work on behalf of the animals and then turn their backs on them. These groups cause a lot of harm to animals b/c they are more interested in PR than real animal protection.

  4. One doesn’t have to be affiliated with an organization to see through Chipot-Lie

  5. Well, unfortunately, BrendaC the masses of people who eat meat and who want to somehow reconcile that with a belief in “humane farming” and “humane slaughtering” do look to major mainstream animal welfare groups to give them guidance. I don’t think anyone should underestimate the power these “welfare” groups have on the general public. They are unlike you and others who are much more savvy and aware of the BS that businesses like Chipotles claims.

  6. I agree with Professor Francione. The elephant in the room continues to be the unholy alliance between the large animal welfare organizations and the animal abusers. Until this is addressed I don’t expect the media to change it’s tune. I think HSUS would be a perfect topic for your next SourceWatch Mr. McWilliams.

  7. Prof. Francione has a valid argument with regard to questioning large welfare organisations and the welfare approach. Again he has raised tbe question of the influence of wefare organisations (in this case especially HSUS) on the media in giving credibility to, in this case, Chipotle’s welfare stance. He quotes two statements put out by HSUS/Paul Shapiro. But how are we to judge the influence of these statements? Rather than assertions, do we not need something like a study to show how and when and with regard to what in particular the media are particularly influenced by HSUS, and also a comparison of the influence of a company like Chipotle against that of HSUS? This is not to suggest that HSUS have no influence but to seek to debate on the basis of good evidence for the strength of that influence. One wonders how much money and effort Chipotle put into handling the media and whether that should be put to one side to focus on HSUS? But in terms of his abolitilnist ideas I think it is not unreasonable to suggest that Prof. Francione is bound to focus on the welfare angle. I can not be sure why he has raised again Paul Shapiro and Prof. McWilliam’s book, etc, except that he often uses links with welfarists as evidence that writers and activists, their ideas and arguments, are suspect or faulty. Perhaps like a moderator on his abolition facebook page he wants us to speculate about Prof. McWilliam’s alleged need to supplement his income from his “minor” academic position and his links to welfare organisations.

  8. I do not agree that HSUS is skewing the nurbmes because they did not do the research. These nurbmes are quoted and used by the Humane Society (and ASPCA, AMA, etc.) but actually come from the NCPPSP (National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy). The NCPPSP gets the nurbmes from rescue organizations and shelters all over the US.From my own experiences and being actively involved in rescue for years, I believe that AT LEAST 25% of dogs in shelters are purebred. I feel the reason many people don’t realize the purebreed number is so high is because numerous rescue organizations cater to specific breeds. Whenever a purebred dog comes in to a shelter, the shelter notifies the proper breed-specific rescue they work with. That rescue will then work to pull the dog asap and find him a suitable home.Any and all rescue organizations are included in these figures, including those run by the national breed club.

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