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Published August 19, 2013, 11:25 AM

Chipotle might allow anibiotics

The Mexican restaurant chain is considering tweaking its standards for beef.

NEW YORK — Chipotle Mexican Grill is reviewing a change to start using beef that has been treated with antibiotics, but says no decision has yet been made on the matter.

The Denver-based chain stressed in a press release Aug. 13 that its beef, chicken and pork continues to come from animals that are not given antibiotics or added hormones whenever possible. But it says it’s considering tweaking its “responsibly raised” meat standards to allow meat from animals that have been given antibiotics to treat illnesses.

The statement was issued after a Bloomberg story noted the change; Chris Arnold, a spokesman for Chipotle, says he had incorrectly stated the new policy had been decided, even though it was still under review.

Under Chipotle’s current definition of meat it considers “responsibly raised,” the company says animals aren’t treated with antibiotics under any circumstances.

The use of antibiotics to treat sick animals is considered acceptable by some health advocates, including the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which is based in Washington, D.C. Sarah Klein, a senior attorney with the group, says the problem is when animals are fed antibiotics with food on a constant basis to promote growth or prevent disease, which could in turn lead to the growth of antibiotic resistant germs.

But Klein says the “Organic Meat” and “No Antibiotics Administered: USDA Verified” labels found in supermarkets mean the meat wasn’t treated with antibiotics, even if the animal was sick. She notes that there are other labels that aren’t verified by the government, such as “raised without antibiotics.”

“It may be true, but it’s not verified,” she says.

Chipotle started transitioning to meat without antibiotics or hormones in 1999, Arnold says, adding that the company reached its goal of switching over its supply entirely a couple years ago. But more recently, Arnold says it is running into difficulty securing enough supply.

As a result, Arnold says the company has recently had to serve meat that didn’t fall within its “responsibly raised” guidelines. This year, he said about 15 to 20 percent of the beef it used was conventionally grown. During such shortages, which typically last a few weeks, he says the company posts signs by registers to alert customers of the change.

Chipotle has grown in popularity in part because of its “Food With Integrity” slogan, making a possible change to its policy notable. The company now has more than 1,500 locations, up from 489 at the end of 2005.