You’ve got to love our capitalist system. Especially the way some companies will do anything to make a buck at other people’s expense.

I’m talking about the latest advertising scheme concocted by none other than Chipotle Mexican Grill.

If you haven’t been following the company’s strategic marketing program, it revolves around bad-mouthing and criticizing conventional food production techniques. 

Its latest escapade involves a series of web commercials entitled “Farmed and Dangerous,” a four-part comedy series on the TV-streaming service Hulu that launched on Feb. 17 that takes a satirical look at large-scale farming. Trouble is, farmers aren’t laughing.

 

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As if being named the worst advertisement in 2013 by the Wall Street Journal for its attack on large-scale agriculture in its “Scarecrow” campaign wasn’t bad enough, this latest assault stars actor Ray Wise and is complete with a Dr. Strangelove-like scientist inventing eight-winged chickens, cash bribes delivered in gift boxes and, of all things, exploding cows. The Scarecrow commercial shows cattle and pigs on factory conveyor belts being liquefied and served to children. Another shot shows a chicken being plunged with a caulk-gun-sized syringe that inflates its size. Dairy cows, with sad puppy eyes, are milked in metal boxes in a dark factory.

 

 

The most horrifying aspect of Chipotle’s ad campaign is that those people who have little connection to their food and lack knowledge about how it is produced may actually believe these gross misrepresentations. They will never know the pride, skill and countless hours spent by our nation’s agricultural producers in delivering to consumers the highest quality and safest food on the planet.

 

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While “Farmed and Dangerous” hopes to promote the company’s concerns about sustainable agriculture and the humane treatment of animals used for meat, this stealth marketing strategy, Chipotle executives say, is not about “product integration,” but “values integration” — a pretty lofty concept for a burrito business.

No. This is all about profits, pure and simple. Chipotle wants to boost its sales in an expensive scheme to suggest that the act of buying burritos and tacos at Chipotle is morally superior to the act of buying them elsewhere. After all, the company bills itself as a good source of “natural” and “sustainable” food. (Of course, this is hypocritical as the chain recently announced that it would be filling its burrito shells with conventional beef due to a shortage of natural beef. Funny how they say one thing and do another, all the while ramping up their fear mongering to scare consumers about the food that they eat.)

All About Propaganda

As a business decision, it may make sense. But let’s not forget what this really is: propaganda.  And it is intended to mock and discredit the honest work of farmers while Chipotle gets fatter from more profits. The company was once a small fast-food restaurant chain in Colorado.  Then, in the 1990s, McDonald’s became a major investor and Chipotle experienced super-sized growth.  By the time McDonald’s sold its stake, Chipotle was a fast-food success story.  The chain has grown to over 1,500 restaurants and boasts a stock-market value of more than $15 billion.

In the last few years, Chipotle has doubled-down in branding itself as a source of natural and sustainable food.  Steve Ells, its CEO, recently wrote about the company’s commitment to remove GMOs from its food to the fullest extent possible. He said there was an “active debate” over the safety of GMO ingredients; yeah, an “active debate” if you believe that the sun revolves around the earth.  Every responsible organization on our planet that has studied the safety of GMOs – from the American Medical Association to the World Health Organization – has come down squarely in defense of crop biotechnology. Not only are GMOs a proven source of good nutrition, they are also good for the environment.  They help farmers conserve soil and allow them to grow more food on less land.  The only people who dispute these facts would probably still like to hang Galileo from the rafters for heresy.

 

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In an interesting development in early March it was questioned whether Chipotle actually practices what it preaches.  Up for a vote at the company’s annual meeting this May will be a proposal forcing the food chain to create a yearly sustainability report with information on its “Food With Integrity” program, energy use, waste management and labor standards.  Seems a couple of major investors are questioning the company’s “natural” and “sustainability” claims to determine if its promotion of better farming techniques and cleaner agriculture are indeed true, and if so, how is it done and how do they manage it?”

“They’re not terribly transparent with setting goals and targets within the Food With Integrity program,” Susan Baker reportedly said.  Baker is vice president of shareholder advocacy and corporate engagement at Trillium Asset Management LLC, one of the companies seeking an annual sustainability report. “They (Chipotle) could really benefit and improve their credibility around the Food With Integrity philosophy with more meaningful reporting.”

 

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In the last few years Chipotle’s ads attacking large-scale traditional agriculture have largely paid off.  The company’s sales have more than doubled during the past four years, reaching $3.21 billion in 2013.  The stock jumped 79 percent last year. It is currently running at almost $600 per share.

So, while it makes terrific business sense to tear down agriculture while increasing your bottom line, Chipotle’s videos opt for a scorched earth approach. Facts about food production be damned. The chain demonizes all producers, large and small, and related businesses that work hard to feed us all.  They do this in order to selfishly build up their own image. 

I don’t know about you, but I know of a lot of burrito joints in which my money would be better spent than gagging on the misrepresentations and outright lies being served up at Chipotle.

 

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