The Chipotle ad shown during the Grammy Awards show has caused quite a stir. The animated ad starts out with a farmer, a pig and some cows – all happy, content and mercifully free of science. Science comes along, and things fall apart. The animals move indoors, into large buildings. Big trucks appear. Cow drugs, pig antibiotics and all sorts of technological evils are used. As Willie Nelson sings, “Science and progress do not speak as loud as my heart,” the farmer sees the light and frees his cows and his pigs. Happiness is found in a simpler life, one without modern farming or science. Life is somehow better when pigs suffer from cold, mud and heat. By dining at Chipotle, you can improve the world, all for the price of a burrito.
The Chipotle website assures us that they only make burritos from the happiest of pigs. How a pig’s happiness is determined is not described, although I can’t help but picture one of those focus groups. In my imagination, the pigs are provided with response meters designed for the cloven of hoof, and follow up interviews by Wilbur the pig would, it seems to me, be necessary to root out the happiness of the pig. It occurs to me that pigs are happier in the warm and dry buildings rejected by Willie and the farmer in the ad. Whatever production method is used, the results are the same – for the pig, at least.
Chipotle assures us that their pork is from pigs raised with integrity, and fed a vegetarian diet, which would, one assumes, make Chipotle customers vegetarians, once removed. That seems to be an elegant solution for those who have moral questions about eating meat. Let the pigs be the vegetarians!
The ad is a cartoon, but ideas do have consequences. In what was probably not a coincidence, McDonald’s, with the backing of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), announced the morning after the ad ran that it will require pork producers who supply McDonald’s to end the use of gestation crates. Pig farmers use gestation crates to control the amount of feed pregnant sows consume. Without the crates, aggressive hogs eat too much and often die in childbirth as a result. At the same time, submissive animals don’t get enough to eat. When in groups, hogs fight. (Mark Bittman, writing in the “New York Times,” says this is nonsense. Bittman should get in a lot with a pen full of sows at feeding time and report back to Times readers – if he can.) Gestation crates are expensive, and farmers use them only because they protect their animals from each other. We can’t ask pigs what they think, but I’m not sure that sows would be willing to trade more freedom of movement for the pain of losing a fight to a 350 pound pen mate.
One thing is for sure. The cost of bacon will increase. If you are HSUS, this is not a problem, but a bonus, since their long-term goal is a complete absence of meat in the American diet. For McDonald’s, this seems counter intuitive. One wonders why any restaurant chain would enter into an agreement with an organization whose goal is the complete ban of the biggest selling item on their menu.
Many of the farmers now raising hogs will leave the industry because they can’t afford to make the changes McDonald’s demands. The production of the vast majority of pork will be left with the huge integrators, those who have the financial muscle to make the changes the HSUS wants or the legal and economic power needed to resist those changes. Chipotle wants us to believe that they support small family farms, but Chipotle and the HSUS will hasten the movement of hog production from smaller farms to the large integrators that can afford to raise pigs in the politically correct manner.