Producers take action against Chipotle’s beef import plan

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In the following days after Chipotle Mexican Grill’s official statement announcing their plans to import Australian grass-fed beef to meet their “Food With Integrity” and “Responsibly Raised Beef” standards because United States cattle ranchers were not able to meet the demand, cattle producers and industry leaders have taken the time to speak up about the situation.

“As Texas Agriculture Commissioner, I truly appreciate the past efforts made by Chipotle to support family farms and your company’s dedication to serving locally-grown products. However, I am shocked by your recent decision to start serving meat that’s been shipped in from more than 8,000 miles away. I also was dismayed by your misguided and irresponsible declaration that this meat is somehow more “responsibly raised” than meat produced by Texas ranchers. American consumers deserve better,” wrote Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples in a June 16 letter to Chipotle’s founder, chairman and Co-CEO, Steve Ells. “I personally invite you and the Chipotle team to meet face-to-face with myself and other Texas beef industry leaders to discuss how we can help supply Chipotle’s growing demand for fresh, healthy beef. After all, Texas beef would not have to travel thousands of miles and leave a substantial carbon footprint before ending up in a Chipotle burrito.”

Two California ranchers, Darrell Wood, an organic, grass-finished beef producer, and Darrel Sweet, a conventional beef producer, have spoken openly and clearly on the Facts About Beef Blog about the differences in their methods and how the environment dictates what practices they are able to utilize. For example, Wood has summer and winter pasture available for his grass-fed operation, while 185 miles south, Sweet’s grass remains dormant six months out of the year, making it essential he uses conventional methods in order to meet his goals.

“My pastures are green only six months out of the year, the other six months they are dormant or brown. If I were to produce grass-fed beef I would have two options, I would need to cut my herd size in half in order to allow for enough feed or I would need to stock feed accordingly when the grass is dry. Both options would not be economically viable for my business, ultimately leading to the end of our farm a farm that I am the 5th generation to work on; my grandchildren are the 7th generation,” says Sweet.

“Raising responsible beef means being a good steward of the resources you have. In some cases that means raising cattle on grass and finishing them on grain, like my friend Darrel. It really boils down to the quality of the grass pastures available to you and whether the grass grows year-round,” says Wood. “Both Sweet and I are involved in this type of work on our ranches through an organization called The California Rangeland Trust. We realized a number of years back, with urban encroachment we, as ranchers, needed to do more to protect open space and endangered species. One of the best ways to utilize this land is through cattle grazing. I would love for Mr. Ells to call me or visit my ranch to learn more about how beef is raised and discuss his options for providing responsibly raised beef to Chipotle customers.”

How to join the discussion

State Beef Council’s and advocacy groups such as the Masters of Beef Advocacy (MBA) have issued action alerts to members, giving tips on how to appropriately speak up about their concerns and tell their story.

The MBA is a Checkoff funded program providing free course work to applicants on beef industry facts and how to effectively advocate for the beef industry.

The following action plan includes:

What You Can Do:

  • Please share the Facts About Beef post through your different online properties (Facebook, Twitter, blogs).
  • Below are some sample tweets and Facebook posts that you can use. We have also included some messages that you can incorporate into your social media conversations or blog posts.  

Sample Social Media posts:

  • Share the blog post through your social properties. If you are a state partner, we encourage you to share this through your organization company properties, as well as your personal social properties.
  • Twitter Strategy: Tweet @Chipotle, encouraging the restaurant to #CallDarrell at 951-389-4FWI for their beef needs.
  • Recommended Twitter posts, utilizing the hashtag #CallDarrell and the phone number 951-389-4FWI:
    • Hey @Chipotletweets, want responsibly raised beef? #CallDarrell at 951-389-4FWI More info:
    • Beef producers raise responsible beef and can supply.  For more info @chipotletweets, #CallDarrel 951-389-4FWI More info:
  • Facebook Strategy:
  • Recommended Facebook post:
    • Myth: Beef producers can't meet Chipotle's define of responsible raised beef.
      Fact: Beef producers are happy to supply Chipotle's needs.
      If you agree - please share this post with your followers.
    • Write a letter to Chipotle (whether you are a grass-finished or grain-finished beef producer) explaining how you raise responsible beef and offer to supply Chipotle with responsibly-raised beef. Send a copy of your letter to so that we can track how many letters are sent and how many producers reach out.

Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc.

Attn: Steve Ells, co-CEO

1401 Wynkoop St Suite 500

Denver, CO 80202

  • Submit a comment to Chipotle online explaining how you raise responsible beef and offer to supply Chipotle's stores with beef that was raised with integrity. Send a copy of your comment to so we can track how many are submitted.
  • Comment on the Huffington Post announcement and offer to supply Chipotle with beef.

Key Messages:

  • The beef community wants to have a conversation with companies and organizations that are making business decisions when it comes to beef because we're committed to being part of the solution.
  • The United States is a world leader when it comes to responsibly raising high-quality and safe beef and we raise a variety of beef choices, from grain-finished to grass-finished, organic to naturally-raised.
  • There are more than 800,000 cattle farmers and ranchers who raise beef in the United States who are always happy to have conversations about the needs of customers, including Chipotle, and find ways to meet their sourcing needs. We're disappointed that Chipotle is suggesting that they can't find adequate supply of responsibly-raised domestically and we'd like to talk with them about their challenges and see how we can be part of the solution.
  • Consumers and customers can feel good about buying beef because all beef producers are committed to responsibly raising high-quality, safe beef that they're proud to serve to their own families.

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Kansas  |  June, 19, 2014 at 09:11 AM

A large customer wants grass-fed beef. If producers really want to "be part of the solution," they can start producing grass-fed beef. How complicated is this? If I go to a restaurant and order a steak, I don't want the waitress to try to talk me into ordering a salad. If I wanted a salad, I'd order one. If Chipotle wanted "grass-finished" beef, they'd order it. If Texas producers can't produce grass-fed cattle because of the weather, I'm sorry about their luck. In Kansas, we don't produce many oranges, but efforts to convince consumers to eat hedge apples instead have been unsuccessful.

June, 19, 2014 at 09:29 AM

Jeremy, You are missing the point. No one really cares about the "grass fed" part of the equation. It's the erroneous claim that only grass fed is "responsibly raised" that has everyone ticked off. The majority of producers are not going to go along with their argument because their premise is deceptive and flawed.

kansas  |  June, 19, 2014 at 09:42 AM

I think Jeremy missed several points. The most important is the U.S. does produce grass fed beef, more than enough to meet Chipotle's demands. I think Els is trying to play one side against the other to try to drive prices down. Trying to get a better price for raw materials is a necessary part of running a profitable business but sometimes the tactics are less than savory.

Alberta  |  June, 19, 2014 at 10:39 AM

Perhaps, once again, this information is being misdirected. Talk to the consumer. They buy the end product from Chipole. Inform them that buying from overseas to ship here is not economically or environmentally sustainable and it is there choice to eat at Chipole's. That is what should be driving the market. If we as producers are going to be changing our management practices every 6 months to fit the whims of retail as they fight to differentiate and be competitive in the marketplace we are in a losing battle. Look to the pork industry in England that is constantly changing to suit the wants of the grocery stores. The beef sector is not able to change management practices that quickly (if they actually need to be changed all that much!) Educate the consumer as to what sustainably raised really means and let them make a choice. Brand loyalty and consumer preference can be a huge driver in the marketplace if we allow it to-and can benefit the industry if the consumers have the information to make their own choices.

Kansas  |  June, 19, 2014 at 12:01 PM

Anonymous, if Chipotle started calling their beef "raised to Chipotle standards" rather than "responsibly raised," do you think domestic producers would be okay to watch Chipotle import their beef from Australia? I doubt it. This boils down to an argument over market position. Chipotle can not find adequate sources of cost effective, grass-fed beef raised without added hormones or antibiotics. They're not buying from Australia just to be mean. They're catering to their customers, who are increasingly demanding grass-fed beef raised without hormones and antibiotics. Domestic producers are caught between a segmenting market: one side that demands increasingly "natural" sources of protein and the other side that just wants cheap beef that won't make them sick tonight. I understand that business is sometimes hard. I understand that life would be easier for domestic producers if everybody just wanted exactly what they produce. But that ain't reality. Rather than try to convince end users that their preferences are wrong, domestic producers are simply going to have to adapt. Read the link to Chipotle's statement. It's clear what they want, and it's clear they wouldn't go through the effort of shipping beef in from the other side of the world if they could get what they want domestically. I don't drive to South Dakota to get my groceries, because I can get what I want here. Also, I've seen no evidence that Chipotle has monopsony power to drive down prices using their demand alone. They simply don't command enough market share.

iowa  |  June, 19, 2014 at 03:04 PM

Jeremy there is plenty of grass fed beef available in the US I know because i raises it. Chipolte is merely trying to pressure US producers to take less money for their product. It is also a PR ploy and a slap at the US producers pretending that Australian Beef is raised more responsibly. It isn't. For instance our herd is hormone & antibiotic free and raised completely on grass for their entire lives. It is a family farm that has been run this way since the 1970's. It is all about PR & money for Chipolte. This little ploy is much cheaper than an advertising campaign would be. So they present the illusion that anyone sourcing from the US is giving inferior product to their customers. What a load. And of course ignorant consumers such as you believe it.

Australia  |  June, 19, 2014 at 07:29 PM

I would guess that the real reason Chipotle bought Australian is because Australian Beef in general is a fraction of the price of US domestic beef even after traveling a million miles. Chipotle's statement is just a publicist way to try justify something in warm fuzzy terms when really it is mostly about price. I am sure you all would have done the same if you were in Chipotle's position. US beef is expensive, Australian beef is cheap. Furthermore, the majority of Australian beef is year round range feed on grass and hormone free, which is normal in Australia, there is lots of it. Also regarding carbon foot print, as it was proved a few years ago with Australian and New Zealand lamb sold in the UK after similar carbon foot print claims, the carbon foot print of producing grass fed beef in Australia is significantly lower than the same in the USA (almost half), and the carbon foot print of shipping it over the sea is a miniscule fraction of the total carbon foot print of the beef served in Chipotle. Ships on the sea are very efficient per kilogram they carry.

SD  |  June, 21, 2014 at 05:13 PM

I have no problem with CHiptle sourcing their beef as they choose. I certainly DO have a problem with them claiming it is due to higher quality beef being raised in Australia! If they were honest about being unwilling to pay the extra money it costs ranchers to raise cattle in the USA, that would help.....a little bit! Isn't it STILL a fact that there are NO RESIDUES of ANYTHING allowed in beed processed in the USA?????

Texas  |  June, 26, 2014 at 01:52 PM

Too many people use the terms grass-fed and organic synonymously. Grass-fed does not mean antibiotic free nor hormone free. I don’t own a single cow so I’ve got no dog in this hunt personally. I have been in the agriculture business all my life, I try to eat every day. My view is this. Consumers should be far more concerned with consuming a healthy animal. That may mean, sometime in that animal’s life, it had to be treated with an antibiotic. If people in the US of A were that concerned about never consuming antibiotics, we wouldn't be rushing our kids to the doctor with every sniffle to get the Doc to dispense, what else but, antibiotics. I dare say there are few in this discussion that haven't mainstreamed antibiotics right down the ole throat. I know I have, many times. Ensuring good health may mean treating animals with antihelminthics (dewormers), too. I want to consume a healthy animal that doesn't have internal or external parasites. The predominant number of internal parasites are ingested from grass so I prefer animals that have been pen fed for a period of time. I would be very surprised that Australian cattle aren’t well versed in dewormers. Australia is at the forefront of these husbandry practices. That may blow up the picturesque view of Elsie the cow grazing in a lush meadow with nothing ever crossing her lips but grass and nothing but sunshine on her back. I not condemning the practice but instead advocating. It’s just that so many consumers are sold a bill of goods about what is healthy by a big companies trying to differentiate themselves in the market to add to their profits.

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