Chipotle, the poster restaurant for healthy, sustainable and ethical ingredients has announced that it’s sourcing its grass fed beef from Australia.
While the chain insists the issue is related to demand exceeding supply—the chain has doubled in size in recent years—critics think it’s more about price than it is about supply.
Chipotle founder Steve Ells said drought conditions in the U.S. have made it difficult to find grass fed beef in the U.S.. California ranchers in particular have been hit by the state-wide drought conditions.
In a recent op-ed piece on the Huffington Post, Ells defended the chain’s decision to begin sourcing from Australia, “sometimes the existing supply of the premium meats we serve is unable to meet our growing demand,” he wrote. “Rather than serve conventionally raised steak, we recently began sourcing some steak from ranches in Southern Australia, which is among the very best places in the world for raising beef cattle entirely on grass,” he explained, adding that the cattle “spend their entire lives grazing on pastures or rangelands, eating only grass or forages.”
But Chipotle has long been outspoken about its commitment to U.S. raised and grown products. The chain currently sources 10 million pounds of fruits and vegetables each year from farms located within 350 miles of its restaurants.
And now, Texas ranchers in particular are upset about the choice to source grass fed beef from overseas. Texas' Commissioner of Agriculture, Todd Staples said Chipotle’s move goes against its environmental position. He wrote Ells about the Australian beef choice, stating that Texas products would not "leave a substantial carbon footprint before ending up in a Chipotle burrito."
Ells replied to Staples in a letter on June 24th stating: "The majority of the beef we serve will continue come from the U.S. ... I would be happy to provide more information about our sourcing protocols to you and your team, as well as any ranchers interested in supplying beef to Chipotle."
According to Ells, Australian grass fed beef is a short-term solution. He wrote in the Post: “[O]ver time, we hope that our demand for grass-fed beef will help pave the way for more American ranchers to adopt a grass-fed program, and in doing so turn grass-fed beef from a niche to a mainstream product.”
While Chipotle's commitments are among the highest in the industry, it's decision to import beef from across the globe sheds light on the growing controversy over meat and environmentalism.
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