News Article

What’s On Your Plate? Pressing Chipotle on Pesticides

Susan Baker
Trillium Asset Management Corporation (“Trillium”) has been pressing restaurant chains to reduce the use of pesticides in their supply chains, continuing our research and advocacy on sustainable food and agriculture.1
Reducing pesticides is a logical step toward protecting the health of farm workers and consumers and minimizing soil and water contamination. The introduction of GMO seed has actually resulted an increase in pesticide use. Yet the restaurant industry has by and large failed to exercise its influence for good in this area. We think it is important for restaurants to get active to reduce pesticide use for a couple of reasons.
First, new research is providing stronger evidence of the link between pesticides and serious conditions such as cancer and other chronic diseases. For example, scientists have known for some time that two pesticides commonly used on tomatoes and other vegetables, maneb and paraquat, trigger a neuro-degenerative process that leads to Parkinson’s disease in animals. In April of this year, two UCLA researchers produced the first study linking the two to high rates of Parkinson’s disease in humans as well. Residents of California’s largely agricultural Central Valley exposed to maneb and paraquat showed a 75 percent increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease over a 25-year span. The risk of disease increased with earlier exposure in life.2
Second, as attested to in the growth of organic food purchases, consumers are paying more critical attention to the origins of their food. Although organics still represent a very small slice of overall food sales, their sales tripled from $393 million in 2002 to $1.7 billion in 2007. Consumers’ access to good information about pesticides is improving. The Pesticide Action Network (PAN) recently launched a “What’s On My Food” website and iPhone app. The app pairs US Department of Agriculture pesticide residue and toxicity data with common fruits and vegetables for easy lookup in the producer aisle.
In recent months we’ve approached Chipotle Mexican Grill about pesticides. Chipotle offers fast food diners burritos, tacos and salads made with fresh ingredients. Using the slogan “Food with Integrity,” the company sells hormone and antibiotic-free sour cream, chicken and pork. Customers who never before gave much thought to where restaurant meat came from can learn about Chipotle’s meat suppliers on its website.
In dialogue and letters to the company over the past year, we’ve been pushing Chipotle to take their good intentions farther, into produce as well as dairy and meat. We’ve asked the company to disclose what steps they are taking to promote sustainable produce farming. Chipotle told our shareholder group that it is gathering data on water and pesticide management from its avocado suppliers. The company’s web site discusses its sourcing of organic beans (35% of total bean purchases). However, the water and avocado efforts are not reported publicly.
In collaboration with members of the Investor Environmental Health Network, Trillium is filing a proposal asking Chipotle to publish a comprehensive report to shareholders discussing how the company is addressing pesticide use reduction in its supply chain.
Chipotle can bolster the credibility of “Food with Integrity” by prioritizing pesticide use reduction, beginning with high-residue crops such as green peppers tomatoes and lettuce.
Chipotle’s forays into sustainable purchasing lead us to believe the company can undertake this work more holistically and more transparently. Doing so will be certainly be a factor in the company’s successful entrée into the U.K. next year, where consumer awareness and expectations about supply chain issues is higher.
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1. See “Betting on the Farm from the Spring 2009 issue of Investing For A Better World.
2. American Journal of Epidemiology, April 15, 2009.