Chipotle Pulls Pork at a Third of Its Locations

Casual dining chain Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) is pulling pork sales at a third of its U.S. locations, according to Reuters. When a food business with more than 1,700 restaurants yanks a product off the menu, the cause is typically bad and often is the result of an outbreak of food poisoning among patrons. Not in this case.

The problem was not some food-borne bacteria or spoilage, but an existing vendor's first failure to pass an animal welfare audit. Chipotle requires suppliers to ensure that pigs have outdoor access or "deeply bedded barns" that are more comfortable for the animals, as the Wall Street Journal reported.

A routine audit revealed the problem, and so, for the first time, the company will stop offering a particular topping -- carnitas, or pork meat -- in its burritos or bowls, the Associated Press reported. In this case, however, there will be no substitution. Carnitas are added by customers to between 6 percent and 7 percent of entrees.

Unwilling to Compromise

There have been times when Chipotle has had signs that said it was serving meat that was not up to the company's "responsibly raised" standards. The issue in such cases is the routine use of antibiotics or hormones and the meat is called "conventionally raised."

"This is fundamentally an animal welfare decision, and is rooted in our unwillingness to compromise our standards where animal welfare is concerned," a Chipotle spokesman told DailyFinance.

It's very unusual for commercial pork producers to give pigs outdoor access, Paul Shapiro, vice president of farm animal protection for The Humane Society of the United States, told AP. The animals are usually kept in crates with concrete floors. Only a "very small portion of the pork industry" gives outdoor access to animals, Shapiro said. Even then, it isn't necessarily a happy life for the pigs. "It doesn't mean these animals are living in ideal conditions on Old MacDonald's farm," he said.

Chipotle is looking into ways to reduce its carnitas shortage, including using different pork cuts or having other suppliers help fill the gap. The company says that it hopes the unnamed vendor will solve its problems and return as a regular supplier.
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