If you watched the Grammy Awards Sunday night, you may have seen Chipotle's two-minute-plus animated anti-factory-farming commercial set to Willie Nelson's cover of Coldplay's "The Scientist." The ad features a farmer who, after acknowledging the troubling impacts of large-scale industrial agriculture, decides to go "Back to the Start" and turn animals out to pasture rather than keep them in crowded CAFOs, pumped with antibiotics and polluting the local water supply.
Promoting sustainable farming practices has been a key PR strategy for Chipotle, whose motto is "Food with integrity." As stated on the fast-food chain's website:
Food with integrity is our commitment to finding the very best ingredients raised with respect for the animals, the environment and the farmers.
Chipotle states that "whenever possible" it gets its meat from animals that are raised without antibiotics or hormones, and sources local produce "when practical."
Something must be said for Chipotle’s ability to bring national attention to a significant problem in today’s food system via this creative video. However, focusing only on the farmer leaves the story incomplete. Food integrity, according to FIC's definition, implies food production from soil to plate that is consistent with community values.
In addition to animal rights and environmental health, food integrity also means acknowledging an important issue that Chipotle has ignored: the routine exploitation of food workers. Many employees in the food industry lack a voice at all, despite their position to stop a problem before it threatens the food supply. Chipotle's branding suggests a deeper look at where our food comes from, but they are missing the number one go-to source for real transparency: workers in their supply chain, who are all potential whistleblowers.
When given the opportunity to improve the integrity of its suppliers, Chipotle said no. The chain has refused to sign the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) Fair Food agreement, which would support better labor conditions for tomato farmworkers in Florida (which accounts for one-third of U.S.-grown tomatoes). Grocery chain Trader Joe’s finally signed on last week after a long campaign effort by CIW, joining Whole Foods, Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Burger King and Subway.
So while Chipotle's commercial makes a powerful statement about the current state of U.S. agriculture, a major component is still missing. Chipotle's outright rejection of worker rights in its "food with integrity" mantra makes you wonder if the restaurant chain is serious about making concrete changes in our food system or if it's simply just PR.
Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.