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Chipotle Changes Antibiotic-Free Policy; Oops, No It Doesn’t

For a few hours Tuesday, it appeared that Chipotle Mexican Grill, an ever-expanding source of fast food for the ethically conscious consumer, had softened its hard line against antibiotics in meat production.

Bloomberg News "broke" the story, as we journalists (rather weirdly) like to say. Relying on an email from Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold, it reported that the restaurant chain no longer would ban all meat from animals treated with antibiotics. Such beef was growing increasingly scarce and expensive. Under the new policy, Bloomberg reported, Chipotle would allow beef producers to use antibiotics to treat disease, but routine use of antibiotics to prevent diseases or promote faster growth still would be banned.

The news flashed 'round the food world on tweeted wings. Other news outlets picked it up. Here at The Salt, we tried to confirm it, since we hate to rely on hearsay or some other organization's reporting. And eventually, we got our own e-mail from Chris Arnold. Update! Chipotle has made no such change in its policies. "I gave Bloomberg incorrect information," Arnold wrote us, manfully taking responsibility.

In fact, according to an official statement from Chipotle, the chain's antibiotic ban still stands. For now. Chipotle admits that it is considering a change: "The company is currently evaluating if this strict 'never-ever' antibiotic protocol is best for the animals, or whether animals can be treated when necessary and allowed to remain in the herd."

Actually, Chipotle's ban was never absolute. Occasionally, some Chipotle restaurants do run out of meat that's been raised completely without antibiotics. In those cases, according to company policy, the restaurants may serve conventional meat, accompanied by a small sign informing consumers of this fact.

In any case, stay tuned! Arnold's premature announcement may yet turn out to be true. For now, though, he's suffering through a bad day at the office. "Tough to un-ring the bell," he confessed ruefully.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit www.npr.org.

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