There’s a new video ad that’s generating a lot of buzz.

Chipotle Mexican Grill first aired its “Back to the Start” television ad during the Grammy Awards in February. It’s also available on the ever-popular YouTube, which has allowed it to spread around the cyber-globe. The animated video contrasts a dismal “factory farm” with cheerful, Chipotle-approved grasslands where pigs run free. As Dr. Meghan Wulster-Radcliffe of the American Society of Animal Science (ASAS) puts it, “In an effort to sell their products, Chipotle misrepresents the real conditions and science behind large scale food production.”

Most consumers know nothing about where their food comes from, besides the local supermarket. And with undercover videos of how some animals are mistreated flooding the evening news, consumers want to know the animals they eventually consume are living a “happy cow” kind of life.

But the Chipotle ad rejects the reality that indoor housing and medications are crucial in modern swine production. Dr. Darryl Ragland, a swine veterinarian and associate professor of food animal production medicine at Perdue University, said the negative portrayal of antimicrobials in the ad 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,” he told ASAS. “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 effectively because of restrictions on the use of antimicrobials.”

The cartoon ad also shows the farmer rebelling against the factory farming concept by making his barns disappear so all his pigs can forage in an un-fenced area. Researchers have determined that this concept of farming exposes pigs to new diseases and allows the animals to bite and injure each other to assert dominance in large groups.

The ad may also lead consumers to think Chipotle represents organic farming, but according to ASAS, the company uses few certified organic products. Instead it purchases pork from producers who follow the company’s own “naturally raised” guidelines. Even in these systems, producers do give their animal medications, though not antibiotics, and pigs do not roam free. According to Chipotle’s Web site, “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,” says ASAS. “According to the United Nations, the world population rose from three billion people in 1960 to seven billion people in 2011. By 2050, world population is projected to reach 9.1 billion.” So how does Chipotle expect animal agriculture to safely and economically feed that many people using a system designed for a third of that number? But then that wasn’t the goal of the ad now, was it?

April 2012 RENDER | back