Written by: Roger Yu, USA TODAY
Chipotle, the burrito restaurant chain, said Tuesday it's considering changing its meat supply policy and buying beef that may have been treated with antibiotics.
Chipotle, which emphasized that no changes were actually made, said its current protocol of buying "responsibly raised" beef, chicken and pork allows the use of antibiotics only to treat sick animals. But they must be removed from the supply.
Citing shortages of beef that meets its current standards, the company said it's reviewing this "never-ever" antibiotic policy and possibly allowing suppliers to sell animals that were treated with antibiotics "when necessary."
"Many experts, including some of our ranchers, believe that animals should be allowed to be treated if they are ill and remain in the herd," said Chipotle founder and co-CEO Steve Ells, in a statement. "We are certainly willing to consider this change, but we are continuing to evaluate what's best for our customers, our suppliers and the animals."
Chris Arnold, a Chipotle spokesman, said Tuesday the company's evaluation for a possible change in its beef purchasing policy is "more of an ongoing thing."
"For now, we are staying the course," he said. "We buy more naturally raised meats than any other restaurant in the world."
The use of antibiotics is "rampant" throughout the food production industry, but a limited use of it to treat sick animals that were diagnosed by licensed veterinarians makes "good sense," said Keeve Nachman, a professor of Environmental Health Sciences at Johns Hopkins University.
"What doesn't make sense is using the drugs absence of veterinarian diagnosis, (such as) using them for preventive measures," he said.
Nachman said he saw no problems in Chipotle's possible change to allow the antibiotics use only for treating sick animals. "I'm fine with that."
Last year, Chipotle served more than 120 million pounds of beef, pork and chicken. While its entire supply of pork and chicken is still free of antibiotics, the company bought about 10% to 15% of beef that was "conventionally raised" to meet a greater consumer demand for its food, Arnold said.
Same-store sales rose 5.5% during the second quarter. "We're growing faster than the supply of natural beef," Arnold said.
The restaurants that serve beef that doesn't meet its current "responsibly raised" standard post notices to customers of the change.
"We continue to be committed to the elimination of antibiotics that are used to promote growth in livestock being raised in confinement operations," Ells said.