In-N-Out is a fast-food unicorn. Even though it operates at a similar price point to McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and other burger-slinging competitors, they manage to put out an exponentially better, fresher product and pay their employees more while not benefitting from the same economies of scale. All these things—along with a wholesome brand image that manages to stay away from the absolute shitstorm that is fast-food marketing—have combined to form In-N-Out’s deservedly rabid fan base.
That sense of loyalty is also why there was such a strong knee-jerk reaction when more than fifty consumer groups called on the Irvine-based chain to stop sourcing beef that has been treated with antibiotics important to human health. There was a collective sense of “Oh great, now they’re coming for our Double-Doubles” on social media, especially when controversial figure, the Food Babe got involved.
But if In-N-Out wants to be up there with the other environmentally friendly quick-serve leaders like Chipotle and Panera Bread—both of whom have committed to using meat raised without antibiotics—maybe it’s time they looked at their own sourcing practices. In-N-Out gets much of their beef from Harris Ranch, which is the factory farming operation with 100,000 head of cattle that you can see (and smell) driving up the 5 freeway near Coalinga. Fun fact: It’s that smell that inspired Michael Pollan to write his anti-big-meat book The Ominvore’s Dilemma.
“Until strong federal regulations prohibit the routine use of antibiotics and other drugs in animals raised for food, commitments from In-N-Out and other popular restaurants to source more responsibly raised meat can help protect human health, animal welfare, and the environment,” said Rebecca Spector, West Coast Director with Center for Food Safety. Other groups involved include CALPIRG Education Fund, Friends of the Earth, and Consumer Union.
In-N-Out’s Vice President of Quality, Keith Brazeau was quick to issue a response: “Our company is committed to beef that is not raised with antibiotics important to human medicine and we’ve asked our suppliers to accelerate their progress towards establishing antibiotic alternatives.”
Even though the Centers for Disease Control has clearly stated, “There is strong evidence that some antibiotic resistance in bacteria is caused by antibiotic use in food animals,” it may be bit of a pipe dream for large cattle operations to nix the use of antibiotics immediately. Chains like McDonald’s and Subway have pledged to stop using chickens treated with drugs important to human health, but birds can go to the slaughter house in less than six weeks. It can take more than a year to raise cattle, giving a lot more time for disease to set in.