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