Chipotle’s main pork supplier, Niman Ranch, was just purchased by poultry giant Perdue Farms.
The acquisition has come as a shock to fans of Niman Ranch, which has been a pioneer in improving animal treatment standards and raising cattle and pigs “naturally” without hormones or antibiotics.
Perdue, on the other hand, has been a target of lawsuits for alleged mistreatment of animals.
In addition to casting some doubt on Niman Ranch, the acquisition also threatens to undermine Chipotle’s campaign against big agriculture and industrial farming.
Some customers are already expressing concerns on social media about Niman’s new ownership.
“How are you going to maintain your guarantee for fresh pork [without] hormones and antibiotics with this change?” one person asked Chipotle on its Facebook page Wednesday.
The company responded from its official account, saying: “We have an internal team who visits our farms and checks on these things. Niman Ranch has a stellar reputation, one I am sure they want to keep.”
Chipotle has set itself apart from competitors by promising fresh, high-quality ingredients and campaigning against the large-scale industrial farming techniques that are widely used by suppliers of most fast-food chains.
Chipotle’s pork suppliers, for example, must raise pigs in deeply bedded barns with access to the outdoors, instead of in cramped pens.
Niman says its standards won’t change under Perdue’s ownership.
“There will be no changes to the strict animal welfare protocols that guide the way our animals are raised,” the company said on Facebook.
Perdue has also said it won’t interfere with how Niman animals are raised.
“With the long, family-owned heritage of our company, we understand and respect what Niman Ranch represents,” Perdue Farms chairman Jim Perdue said in a statement. “All Niman Ranch livestock will continue to be raised by the same small family farmers and ranchers, following the same protocols, and with the same focus on sustainability.”
But fans of Niman remain sceptical.
“This is horrible news,” one person wrote on Niman’s Facebook page. “Perdue is not a respectable natural or organic company. It’s very distressing for the future of our animals that are raised for food. I can’t even say how much this upsets me and I will not promote Niman Ranch any longer in any food production or events that I am a part of. So, so sad.”
Another person wrote: “What a terrible thing. I can tell you first-hand that this sale has already started to affect the Niman farmers in a negative way. What a terrible terrible thing.”
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