Chipotle’s Shortage of Naturally-Raised Pork Highlights Problems

sorry no carnitasTry to find organic bacon or any organic pork product at your local grocery store. Good luck. Organic pork just doesn’t exist in the U.S. It’s hard enough to find antibiotic-free pork.

Chipotle Mexican Grill knows all about this difficulty. Back in January, the fast-casual restaurant chain stopped serving pork at hundreds of its restaurants. Now it is mid-April, and the company is still not serving pork at some of its restaurants. It has also run out of chicken and beef at some locations, Bloomberg reports.

When it comes to sourcing ingredients, Chipotle sets the standards high. Those standards are part of its Food With Integrity program. As part of the program, the company buys only pork from pigs that are “raised outside or in deeply bedded pens,” as its website states. Chipotle also sources its pork from pigs fed a vegetarian diet and not given antibiotics. Since 2001, the company has only sourced its pork from suppliers that follow those guidelines.

When it comes to beef, Chipotle has sourced “naturally raised” beef since 1999. That means buying beef from producers that do not give cows hormones or antibiotics. The chicken the company buys comes from 100 percent antibiotic-free sources.

Chipotle acknowledges on its website that it will “occasionally” experience shortages of chicken and meat. The reason for shortages is because there just aren’t enough naturally-raised chickens, cows and pigs. Antibiotic-free meat probably accounts for less than 5 percent of total meat sales, according to a Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) report published last October. By some estimates, reporting in 2012 showed sales of antibiotic-free meat were up by 25 percent over the three previous years. While sales of antibiotic-free meat are increasing, consumption of meat in the U.S. is decreasing. Per capita consumption of meat in four major categories (beef, pork, chicken and turkey) decreased during the same time period.

pigConsumers want antibiotic-free meat, as several surveys show. A 2012 Consumer Reports survey found that 61 percent of those polled said they would pay 5 cents extra or more per pound for antibiotic-free meat, and 37 percent said they would pay a dollar more per pound. An Ipsos/Reuters poll conducted in March found that 61 percent agreed that eating antibiotic-free meat is important to them.

Consumers are not the only ones concerned about antibiotics routinely given to livestock and poultry. A 2014 Consumer Reports survey found that 93 percent of doctors polled are concerned about the routine use of antibiotics, and 97 percent are concerned about drug-resistant infections.

It is a wonder that there is such a short supply of antibiotic-free meat given the consumer interest in antibiotic-free meat, the concern of doctors and companies like Chipotle adopting stricter sourcing standards. Perhaps as more consumers become aware of the increasing amounts of drug-resistant infections, they will start seeking out antibiotic-free meat. Surely, supply will eventually have to meet demand.

Image credits: 1) Yelp user Joyce K. 2) Deraman Uskratzt

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.