Chipotle to use cheese made from rBGH-free cows

DENVER The Chipotle Mexican Grill fast-casual chain said Monday that it would switch by year-end to cheese made with the milk of cows that are not injected with hormones.

The move is in keeping with the 670-unit chain’s Food with Integrity mission, which calls for offering affordable, socially responsible gourmet food, said Steve Els, Chipotle’s founder, chairman and chief executive.

Chipotle already serves meat from animals fed a vegetarian diet and raised without antibiotics or growth hormones, and a quarter of its black and pinto beans are organically grown.

Last year the chain switched to serving sour cream made with milk from cows that were not treated with the synthetic hormone rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone), also known as rBST (recombinant bovine somatotropin). The hormone stimulates milk production. The chain began shifting that hormone ban to its cheeses this year as well.

Chipotle’s hormone-free dairy initiative follows recent decision by Starbucks Coffee Co. to offer milk products from cows that aren’t injected with the hormone. Several grocery chains are also avoiding rBGH products.

Chipotle cited a recent consumer survey by Opinion Research Corp. that noted 81 percent of respondents indicated they would prefer to buy dairy products derived from cows that do not receive synthetic hormones, assuming little or no pricing difference.