Certified Chipotle


Grant Levinson, Staff Columnist

A couple of months ago, I worked my final shift at Chipotle Mexican Grill after a year of cooking and serving their Mexican food. It was a great first job as I learned how to work shifts and collaborate with a variety of people.

However, being a vegan and a fervent animal-rights activist, working there had always felt contradictory to my beliefs.

I first applied for a job at Chipotle because of my unhealthy obsession with the fast-food restaurant, given that it has an excellent array of vegan options. What I only began to think about later was that as one of the largest fast-food chains in America, Chipotle is also one of the biggest meat and dairy sellers, even if they have plenty of vegan choices. This realization was something that began to weigh heavily on my conscience.

So, after a couple weeks into the job, I began researching how Chipotle purchases its meat and dairy. Now, I must admit that at first, I was highly impressed with their approach. Their website proudly touts that Chipotle has “the highest animal welfare standards,” and their three central claims concerning animal welfare appear very strong: Pork, chicken, and beef are all certified humane; pork and beef are Global Animal Partnership certified; all sour cream is made from the milk of cows given 365 days of access to pasture.

They have taken an aggressive stance against factory farming since their founding, so I was inclined to believe there were no ethical issues with working there.

In 2013, they even released a short film titled “Chipotle: The Scarecrow,” highlighting how they’re actively fighting to close factory farms. It was one of the first videos that spurred my interest in the lives of farmed animals.

The film follows a scarecrow that works in a factory farm instead of a pasture. While working, he witnesses sad cows being restrained to a box the size of their body and chickens being injected to grow unnaturally large. To no surprise, the cruel conditions become too much for him, so he decides to leave his job at the factory and sell vegetables out of a stall in his backyard instead—a stall that would later become the first Chipotle.

A grim reality Chipotle is portraying of America, isn’t it? Well, it’s how 99% of farmed animals in the U.S. are forced to live. But, if Chipotle isn’t subjugating animals to this treatment, what are they doing? Let’s take a closer look at their claims.

First, they claim their pork, beef, and chicken are “certified humane,” but what does that mean? For starters, there are no requirements for outdoor access, meaning that Chipotle’s chickens have most likely never seen the sun or stepped outside but instead live in confined sheds. Chipotle also endorses electrical water stunning, where chickens hanging by their feet are dipped into charged water, causing them to go unconscious. This method, however, is incredibly ineffective, and due to a lack of proper training or control over the speed at which chickens must be processed for slaughter, many birds are slaughtered when they are still conscious.

One of Chipotle’s most attractive claims is that their dairy cows get 365 days of access to pasture a year. If this is true, then that’s excellent! But, this alone doesn’t negate the cows’ suffering as a result of other actions. Many people don’t know that dairy cows only produce milk when they have given birth, which, when living on a dairy farm, basically forces female dairy cows into a constant cycle of pregnancy. When these cows have their baby, it is often taken away from them within 24 hours of birth to ensure that the calf can’t drink his mother’s milk. Like humans, cows form strong maternal bonds, and the separation of the mother and calf causes immense emotional suffering.

Of course, it’s also important to remember that all these cows—at an average of six years old—are killed after no longer being able to produce milk.

Now, the purpose of this column has not been to single out Chipotle, rather to point out even those companies that go out of their way to promote “certified humane” treatment still fall short. The system that produces and sells animal products will always be ugly and violent.

When I hear about animal welfare claims such as Chipotle’s, I ask myself two questions: Would I be okay if these regulations were applied to other animals? The answer for me is a clear no. I would never be okay with a dog being treated in Chipotle’s “certified humane” conditions, so why would I be okay with any farm animal? I then ask, what do these terms really mean? Chipotle promotes “humane slaughter,” but humane means benevolent and compassionate. How can slaughter, an intrinsically violent act, be compassionate? Especially when the animal does not want to die?

Working at Chipotle, I would often hear the question, “which meat should I get?” In response, I would always say, “try the sofritas.” Now that’s certified humane.