Resturant chain Chipotle backs FDA guidelines on animal antibiotic use
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently introduced a voluntary plan to limit the use of antibiotics on farm animals, a move that restaurant chain Chipotle says is long overdue.
For decades, farmers have been feeding their animals foods with antibiotics.
It makes them grow fatter faster and can prevent the outbreak of diseases. In fact, 80 percent of antibiotics used in the U.S. aren’t used by people, but in chickens, pigs and cows. That worries the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The FDA fears feeding farm animals antibiotics could lead to drug resistance, eventually exposing drug-resistant superbugs to humans. The agency has released new guidelines to limit the use of drugs on farms. Now farmers won’t be able to routinely use antibiotics, and if they need them to prevent diseases, they’ll have to get a veterinarian to write a prescription.
Restaurant chain Chipotle said the FDA's plan to limit antibiotic use on farm animals should have been implemented long ago.
Chipotle Mexican Grill spokesman Chris Arnold said the restaurant chain refuses to buy meat grown with antibiotics. He also said though they are encouraged by the FDA’s close attention to the issue, the company still has concerns.
Arnold said the FDA’s plan is a good first step, but more action is needed to stop the abuse of antibiotics. Arnold said the voluntary nature of the guidelines allow for preventative use of antibiotics, which is not their intended purpose.
“The use of antibiotics in industry or animal agriculture solves an entirely man-made problem. When you put animals in these horrendously overcrowded conditions, then antibiotics become more important, or even necessary,” Arnold said. “We’ve maintained that if you raise animals in ways that emphasize good animal husbandry and good care for the animals, the antibiotics just simply aren’t necessary.”
Chipotle sources its meat from Niman Ranch, a co-op of individual family-owned farms that are raising its animals in more traditional ways — free, in open pastures or barns, and without the use of antibiotics. Arnold said that animals raised in this way yield better tasting meat for two main reasons.
“First, when you raise animals outdoors, they develop more back fat to protect them from the elements, and that creates a more moist, marbled, flavorful meat,” Arnold said. “The second reason seems to be that animals raised in confinement live their lives under considerably more stress, and the impact of stress creates chemical reactions in animals that make the meat tougher and drier, and less appealing."
According to Arnold, customers are also becoming increasingly aware about the abuse of antibiotics and its effects. Over the last few years, he said, they have observed a transition where conversations about food issues have become more mainstream.
“As that conversation has started to become more mainstream, we’ve begun to incorporate those same ideas and messages just under the belief that people are ready for it. People want to know where their food comes from and how it gets to them,” he said.
Arnold believes this non-regulatory approach may have more success in making an impact on the industrial food system — specifically with regard to antibiotics — than the new FDA guidelines.
“Over the last few years, one or more of the largest pork producers has vowed to end the use of gestation crates, which are small cages where breeding sows spend most of their lives," he said. “You’ve seen some of the really big restaurant chains, fast food chains, McDonalds and Wendy’s, and most recently, Burger King, pledging to move away from serving pork from pigs that are raised using gestation crates."
Though he is doubtful that the new guidelines will be enough, especially in industries that are remarkably change-averse, Arnold said he can see progress being made.
“Small steps forward for sure, but small steps taken by the largest producers, and the largest buyers and sellers can really move the food chain in very significant ways," he said.
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