Thursday, February 16, 2012

Chipotle explains factory farm ad

This week I have a Page One story on reaction within agriculture to Chipotle Mexican Grill's Grammy Awards debut of its two-minute "Back to the Start" ad, which has gone viral on the Internet. The ad depicts a family farm that slowly evolves into a factory.

Here is the conversation I had with Chris Arnold, Chipotle's spokesman, in a series of back-and-forth e-mails:
What has been the public's reaction so far?
Overwhelmingly positive. We have people writing or calling us saying they loved it, some saying we stole the show.

Have you heard any feedback from people within agriculture, either from organic/natural growers who liked the message or conventional farmers/groups that complained?
Sure. The natural/organic farms love it and are supportive of the message. The others don't necessarily agree. And that's ok.

An NCBA official told me he was disappointed because the ad seemed like a hit "from inside the family", so to speak, because Chipotle does use a small amount of conventionally grown meat as well as natural/organic. What say you to this?
All of our meat is naturally raised now, but that's beside the point. The film depicts the ideal we have been working towards for more than a decade. We have never professed to being perfect but have been working to find more sustainable sources for all of the ingredients we use. This film, in fact, tracks the arc of suppliers we work with.

An organic beef producer I talked to today said she believes there's room for all types of production and that conventional producers don't deserve to be painted "with a negative brush". How would you respond?
There is more than one way to produce food. We choose to work with like-minded suppliers who share our vision and values. But we certainly recognize that others choose different paths, as is their right. Just as it is our right to make choices we make.

Do you have a third-party auditor who checks the quality/authenticity of the meat that you use? Who are they, and what are the results of the audits?
We do internal audits and third party audits to be sure suppliers are adhering to our protocols.

The American Society of Animal Science says this about the ad:
Some may think the Chipotle advertisement represents organic farming. In
reality, Chipotle uses few USDA-certified organic products. Instead,
Chipotle purchases pork from producers who follow Chipotle’s own
“naturally raised” guidelines. Even in these systems, producers do give
their animals medications, though not antibiotics, and pigs do not roam
free. Chipotle did not reply to requests for comments, but according to
Chipotle.com, “naturally raised” is “the way animals were raised 50
years ago before huge factory farms changed the industry.”
How do you respond?

Contrary to the ASAS assertion, pigs that provide pork for Chipotle are raised on pasture or in deeply bedded barns, and without the use of antibiotics or other growth promoting drugs. (If a pig is sick and needs to be treated with antibiotics, it certainly is, but it is then removed from our program).

The farm in the film is not necessarily organic, but is a small family farm that grows and becomes more industrial in nature, before returning to its roots. It is a story that tracks with farms that actually supply our restaurants.

With regard to our use of organic ingredients, we use organically grown beans and herbs in our restaurants (information that is available on our website), but we do not claim to use anything that's organic beyond that. None of our meat is organic and it never has been.

The link below [here] is to a little documentary vignette we shot at Paul Willis' farm in Iowa. Paul runs the Niman Ranch hog operation, and has been a supplier of ours for more than a decade. It's a great illustration of the kinds of farmers we work with and is pretty clear in its depiction of how pigs are raised under our program.
Reaction among bloggers to the ad has been swift. Chris Goode says, "I'll take one burrito, hold the lies." Crystal Cattle says, "Chipotle, your Grammy commercial still doesn't change my mind." The National Cattlemen's Beef Association's Beltway Beef says, "Food with integrity requires marketing with integrity."

My take: First of all, it was a catchy ad, but I don't know the degree to which ads like that change people's minds about whether to eat natural vs. conventional meat (although many of my sources in the livestock industry would say they're devastating). The foodie movement has been around for a few years now and beef and pork demand is holding its own, to say the least. Secondly, I've always liked Willie Nelson's music and my dad is a lifelong fan. But to the extent he ever had a voice to begin with (which is debatable), it's seriously shot.

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