Chipotle Mexican Grill (NYSE: CMG) applauds the Food and Drug Administration’s attention to the overuse of antibiotics in livestock farming, but urges the agency and the industrial animal agriculture sector to do more. While Chipotle sees FDA’s voluntary plan as a good first step, the company believes more intervention is needed to stop the abuse of antibiotics in farming.
“We are pleased that the FDA is paying attention to the overuse of antibiotics in farm animals, and are glad to see them taking this first step,” said Steve Ells, founder, chairman and co-CEO of Chipotle. “But there are gaps in the program, particularly that it continues to allow antibiotic use for prevention of disease, and compliance is voluntary. While FDA has a good track record using guidance to drive change, we hope they will monitor progress closely as producers could have stopped using antibiotics on their own at any time, but few have chosen to do so.”
FDA’s proposed plan asks, but does not require, chicken, beef and pork producers to reduce the quantities of antibiotics given to animals to promote growth, while allowing for continued antibiotic use for the treatment, prevention and control of illness. Under the plan, antibiotic use in feed would require a prescription. FDA hopes its plan will slow the indiscriminate use of antibiotics, which contributes to antibiotic resistance in humans.
“We started serving meat from animals raised in a humane way and without the use of antibiotics because we believe animals should be raised in ways that emphasize good care rather than chemicals,” Ells said. “These voluntary guidelines seem unlikely to cause producers to change the practices that necessitate dependence on drugs in the first place. It’s an important first step, but stronger action will be needed to bring about meaningful change in an industry where their practices are so well entrenched.”
Chipotle began serving naturally raised meat – meat from animals that are raised in a humane way and never given antibiotics or added hormones – more than a decade ago. Today, all the meat Chipotle serves is naturally raised and the company continues to use more naturally raised meat than any other restaurant in the country: more than 120 million pounds in 2012. Under Chipotle’s program, antibiotics may only be used to treat sick animals, but those animals must then be removed from its program.
“We certainly hope that the industry will follow the recommendations of FDA’s guidance and see that food can be raised in ways that are better for the animals, the environment and human health,” Ells said. “We believe Chipotle is showing that better food from more sustainable sources, including meat from animals raised without the use of antibiotics, can be available and affordable. It is one of the ways we are changing the way people think about and eat fast food.”
In 1977, the FDA first determined that using penicillins and tetracyclines to make animals grow faster was no longer “shown to be safe,” as research had linked such uses to the development of antibiotic resistance. In 2009, the FDA released data revealing that 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the United States were sold for use in food animal production. The vast majority of animals that receive these drugs are not sick, and the doses they receive are too low to successfully treat bacterial infections if they were. Rather, low doses of antibiotics are fed to healthy animals throughout their lives to speed their growth and to reduce infections in the overcrowded and unsanitary conditions commonly found at the industrial operations that produce these animals.
Steve Ells, founder, chairman and co-CEO, started Chipotle with the idea that food served fast did not have to be a typical fast food experience. Today, Chipotle continues to offer a focused menu of burritos, tacos, burrito bowls (a burrito without the tortilla) and salads made from fresh, high-quality raw ingredients, prepared using classic cooking methods and served in a distinctive atmosphere. Through our vision of Food With Integrity, Chipotle is seeking better food from using ingredients that are not only fresh, but that—where possible—are sustainably grown and naturally raised with respect for the animals, the land, and the farmers who produce the food. A similarly focused people culture, with an emphasis on identifying and empowering top performing employees, enables us to develop future leaders from within. Chipotle opened with a single restaurant in 1993 and currently operates more than 1,225 restaurants. For more information, visit Chipotle.com.