Chipotle Sells Twisted Image of Animal Agriculture

American Society of Animal Science says commercial misrepresents real conditions of animal agriculture.

Published on: Feb 16, 2012

During the Grammy Awards broadcast on Feb. 13, Chipotle Mexican Grill aired their popular YouTube video "Back to the Start." The video contrasts a dismal "factory farm" with cheerful, Chipotle-approved grasslands where pigs run free. In an effort to sell their products, Chipotle misrepresents the real conditions and science behind large scale food production.

The Chipotle advertisement rejects the reality that indoor housing and medications are crucial in modern swine production. Darryl Ragland, DVM, PhD, a veterinarian and associate professor of food animal production medicine at Purdue University, said the negative portrayal of antimicrobials in the advertisement misrepresents how antibiotics, vaccines and other medications are used in pig production.

"These products are used in a strategic manner to address health issues on most farms and represent a tool and not a crutch," Ragland said. "The push to ban antimicrobial use in animal production is likely to create a welfare issue where we may have sick animals that cannot be medicated because of restrictions on the use of antimicrobials."

In the advertisement, the cartoon farmer rebels against an oppressive factory system by making his barns disappear and having all his pigs forage in an un-fenced area. James Pettigrew, PhD, a swine researcher and professor of animal science at the University of Illinois said outdoor housing systems actually create new animal welfare problems.

"I have worked in both outdoor and indoor pig production systems. Like most others who have actually worked in both systems, I do not consider outdoor systems to be more pig-friendly," Pettigrew said.

Pigs are exposed to new diseases when they forage outside. They also bite and injure each other to assert dominance in large groups.

"The notion of raising pigs on pasture does not demonstrate good stewardship of the land. The fact of the matter is that pigs are very destructive to the terrestrial environment," said Ragland. "Evidence of this reality is the concern about feral pigs and their destruction of the habitats of other animals."

Ragland added that Chipotle's portrayal of animal waste as green sludge flowing into a lake is also inaccurate.

"Environmental laws in most states prohibit uncontrolled discharge of waste material into open bodies of water and govern how this material is used to improve soil fertility," Ragland said. "Again, the video is very simplistic and would tend to mislead members of the public that are not familiar with animal agriculture."

Some may think the Chipotle advertisement represents the 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."

But the systems that fed the world 50 years ago are not sufficient to feed the world today. According to the United Nations, the world population rose from 3 billion people in 1960 to 7 billion people in 2011. By 2050, world population is projected to reach 9.1 billion.

"The world can afford for a few wealthy people to get pork and other animal products produced in outdoor extensive systems," said Pettigrew. "But we cannot sustainably produce nearly enough for all the world's people that way. Such systems require too much land and feed to be sustainable if applied across the industry."

Meghan Wulster-Radcliffe, PhD, CEO of the American Society of Animal Science, said that though the society supports all science-based animal agriculture systems, including organic, "It is only one option and presents serious limitations in terms of feeding the world."

To produce enough pork to feed the world, not just stock a Chipotle, producers need modern medicine, waste management and animal housing.

Chipotle, like any company, is advertising a fantasy. Coca-cola has smiling polar bears, Old Spice has manly men and Chipotle has a cartoon farm. Chipotle did not try to represent science or agriculture truthfully; instead, it made a commercial.

Source: American Society of Animal Science

Story Tags: pig production, usda

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I should add that I don't mean all equipment manufacturers and designs. Equipment for manure processing for instance has made great advances lately. The issue there is the demand for manure processing equipment is high because farmers can use the resulting material. The demand for new housing systems is lower than manure processing equipment due to lower demand for new products.

  2. Anonymous says:

    12:00AM true, but people should not shut off the discussion about what is appropriate for animal farming just because there is the vegan alternative. I personally believe gasoline-powered cars are an unnecessary evil... that is not to say there shouldn't be a healthy debate on fuel efficiency. In any case, 3:49 is correct that Chipotle's actual purchasing is quite different from the picture presented in their commercial. Chipotle is essentially favoring group pig housing over individual pens. Iowa State research suggests that there is a negligible difference in stress levels and overall production between different systems depending on how well they are managed. The Netherlands has a similar controversy where at least five different animal farming pig farming methodologies are widely discussed. A heated debate exists as to if stress hormone levels in swine can be used as a basis for what is to be considered a "humane" animal farming operation. Agricultural producers are willing to transistion to other methods which have similar efficiency to conventional confinement buildings. The people who are unwavering in their support for crates and steel buildings are largely manufacturers, not producers. A producer can switch over methods in a matter of years while agricultural equipment manufacturers are relatively slow changing molds and equipment designs.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Anyone who eats animals is evil. It's as simple as that. It doesn't matter how you raise them, in the end dead is dead, they are still murdered.

  4. Anonymous says:

    3:49 not U of Iowa, Iowa State.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Chipotle's definition of "naturally raised" includes raising hogs in hoop barns which is a proven alternative to 1970s "modern" hog farming technology. Hoop barn hog raising has been tested by the University of Iowa and implemented across the country. I highly doubt Chipotle actually sources much pork from unorganized hobby farms using outdoor pigs from New Zealand.

  6. Anonymous says:

    All the people against factory farming need to realize it's a part of life. If they want free-ranged animals to eat they need to raise their own in their back yards. The problem is these are all city people who don't understand one thing about raising animals and just want the outcome to be cheap and raised the way they want. The problem is cheap is their first concern. It's a matter of economics. People like having money to buy games and phones and tvs and fancy stuff they don't require, but if all animals were raised in their humane system they envision they would be spending most of their money on meat. Farmers raise animals to make money. Society wants food cheap. Large scale farming is the answer to that. I like fresh meat I've raised and butchered myself better than store meat, but that is not always possible. Unless you raise your own meat you shouldn't complain, because in the end farmers are doing what is necessary to FEED THE WORLD.

  7. Anonymous says:

    It is a creative ad...nothing wrong with that....which agricultural ads portray true situations.. none that I have ever seen. Relax and enjoy this cheap entertainment...it is not meant to be much more than just that...If u like it have fun, if u don't eat at McDonalds and have a HAPPY MEAL...now that too is creative...

  8. Anonymous says:

    Isn't is interesting those who do not produce livestock for a living or depend on having healthy animals are so sure they have all the answers with no real experiance in livestock production. I am sure that not a one of these self perceived experts would go to a doctor with no more actual knowledge or experience in medicine than they have in animal care. North Carolina farmer and cattleman

  9. Anonymous says:

    I love the fact that factory farming associations like the one who published this article fail to mention that their animals are living in such a toxic environment indoors that they need to be treated with a steady regiment of antibiotics just to keep them alive. Medicine for the livelyhood of an otherwise healthy animal living in a humaine environment is MUCH DIFFERENT then constantly giving your livestock antiobiotics because if you didn't they would all die because of the environment where they are foced to live. Also, the argument that the polution that factory farms don't produce polution is interesting to say the least. There are hundreds of sources that cite very clearly that factory farms are responsible for a significant amount of polution. I hate the fact that when a company actually tries to do the right thing, there are organizations such as yours that are lobbying behind financial and political interests against them. Maybe you should dig deep and check your moral compass... Is what you are doing really good for the animals, the environment and the people involved in the process? OR is it just good business and helps you make money in your way of life. There were many people involved in the Tobacco industry that found themselves looking for a new line of work once the momentum swung far enough the other direction exposing the reality of the effects of tobacco use and the marketing tactics, propoganda and lobbying that kept their racket going for as long as it did. We are still cleaning up the mess today. Eventually factory farming will be truly exposed for what it is and you will be forced to change. I am glad this is forcing more conversation about the subject!

  10. Anonymous says:

    The bias in this article is painfully obvious. Politics aside, Chipotle is promoting something they value as a company and they have every right to do so. Why is it wrong for them to advertise a "fantasy", but the advertising by factory meat producers doesn't get the same criticism from this publication? The ironic part about this article is that Chipotle's brand image represents their operation much more accurately (less deceptively) than the images used by factory meat producers (with pictures of cattle out on the pasture printed right on their packaging). Which sell is really more "twisted"? Farm Futures only serves to fuel the greed of farmers who have lost touch with the land, the animals, and their customers. These types of industry publications, and the farms they answer to, fear that Chipotle will beat them at their own game--and it will do so ethically and sustainably.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Same old vested interests displaying their worn out arguments.

  12. Anonymous says:

    This one-sided article leaves out a important fact: The human health consequences from factory farming. People become immune to antibiotics because we are giving animals them in their feed. If animals are not kept in over-crowded conditions, illnesses will not thrive and they will not need constant antibiotic treatments. Learn more here: http://www.humanefoodfinder.com/2011/04/these-animals-are-making-us-sick_15.html

  13. Anonymous says:

    What Chipotle has done and done very effectively has been to get discussion happening and that can not be bad! cowbossatwscc

  14. Anonymous says:

    Maybe we all need to put them on our list and not do any business with them and see how long they exist.

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