Chipotle Corporation is today’s target for the latest protest against food companies here in Metro Denver. While the exploitation of US food service workers continues to gain resentment from the public, protesters in Denver hope to also spur opposition to the exploitation of animals as well. Local animal rights activists want to expose what they call the falsehood known as “humane meat” that is “responsibly–raised”, a phrase Chipotle uses to advertise its popular Mexican food items that have made the chain a stellar performer in the industry.
The protest demonstration will take place between 4:00 and 7:00 pm at Chipotle’s headquarters, located at 500 Broadway in Denver. Chipotle scored big with area vegans for its introduction of tofu-based entrees this year. The new entrees are not the chain’s first attempt to introduce vegan-based foods, but unlike past attempts, the new entrees are gaining much more favor among consumers. While Denver area vegan groups were elated at the new menu options, they are not letting the chain slide on the issue of animal exploitation.
“I'm personally interested in this campaign because I've seen the growth of pro-Chipotle sentiment among my peers and I think it's misplaced. Chipotle uses clever marketing to establish itself as a ethical leader in fast food corporations, but commits itself to nothing,” said Tommasina Dandelion, a member of Rams Organizing for Animal Rights, or ROAR, as they are well-known. The group is based in Fort Collins at Colorado State University and is sponsoring the protest. The statement was a public post on the organization’s Facebook page.
Chipotle has positioned itself in the market as an ethical leader among fast food outlets and makes pledges not to buy meat from typical factory farms where animals live in crowded and miserable conditions. Scientists have shown that these distressed animals release hormones that correspond to their negative emotions and suffering. The hormones negatively impact the quality of the meat, they say, as do many chefs.
Chipotle’s official statements support the same claim about meat quality. On the company’s website, it is stated that “We believe pigs that are cared for in this way enjoy happier, healthier lives and produce the best pork we've ever tasted”, speaking specifically of pigs raised outdoors or in deep-bed pens that are not crowded. Raising the animals without crowding them eliminates the need for antibiotics commonly used on factory farms as the only means to keeps them from getting sick from living too close together. The company admits that it is not yet able to buy all of its meat from sources that never use factory farm methods. The elimination of factory farmed meat will depend largely on the demands of large buyers such as Chipotle.
Members of ROAR worry that Chipotle’s implied commitment will weaken the push to eliminate cruelty to animals as conscious consumers get lulled into thinking animal suffering has been eliminated by supposedly-progressive practices. Furthermore, the influence Chipotle has over the public will weaken the idea eating animals, humanely raised or not, is morally wrong. While vegan and vegetarian diets are becoming popular for health reasons, many vegans give up animal products because they object to killing them for food.
Dandelion added in her public Facebook post that ROAR is “trying to engage with Chipotle's ethical inconsistencies in a public way.” Many other animal welfare organizations also criticize the concept of humane meat for the same reason. Even those animal welfare activists who may be sympathetic to the concept of humane meat point out that there are no legal standards to insure meat is humanely raised. For example, FDA law says a “free range chicken” farm is a place where chickens aren’t in cages and have access to the outdoors; no other specifications are made. The birds can still be crowded into pens, de-beaked with wire cutters and male chickens can still be ground up alive or burned in the incinerator immediately after their birth.
“There's nothing humane about killing another living being. If we animal activists don't point this out to the public and to Chipotle, who will?” Dandelion said.
ROAR has also sponsored the spring Veg Fest events in Fort Collins that have drawn sizable crowds in the past two years and included celebrity vegans including John Pierre, the famous Hollywood personal trainer, and superstar ultra-marathoner Scott Jurek and has mobilized members to travel the 60 miles south to Denver, where animal activists from other local groups are expected to join them.