chipotle

Known for strict ingredient standards that set it apart from other fast-food outfits, Chipotle is now potentially lowering the bar to allow meat treated with antibiotics for sale in its restaurants.

Sales at Chipotle have more than doubled to $2.73 billion between 2008 and 2012—and that growth is coming at a cost. While the company claims it would not allow meat where antibiotics were given to prevent illness or increase weight, sick animals treated with antibiotics because of a legitimate infection may soon be in your next burrito.

“Many experts, including some of our ranchers, believe that animals should be allowed to be treated if they are ill and remain in the herd,” Co-Chief Executive Officer Steve Ells said in a statement. “We are certainly willing to consider this change, but we are continuing to evaluate what’s best for our customers, our suppliers and the animals.”

But the motivation may also be far more financial than it appears, Businessweek reports: “The possible change in Chipotle’s practices comes as U.S. beef production is projected to plunge to a 21-year low next year, threatening higher costs and making it tougher for the restaurant chain to get enough meat to fill customers’ burritos.”

According to Businessweek, the company claims it simply can’t meet customer demand for its naturally raised meats. Only 80 to 85 percent of the beef sold in Chipotle locations this year met its natural standards, compared with last year’s total near 100 percent. The company reports 20 to 25 percent growth every year, and beef suppliers simply aren’t able to meet the company’s needs.

A focus on ingredients—naturally raised meats, local produce, pasture-raised dairy products—have become hallmarks for the Chipotle brand. The company has frequently been outspoken about its ability to make fast-food healthy, affordable and sustainable. But menu items may not be as healthy as they appear. Chipotle was also in the news recently for revealing which ingredients on its menu are genetically modified—a first for any restaurant in the U.S.

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Image: animakitty