Chipotle Mexican Grill launched The Scarecrow, an arcade-style adventure game for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.
(Business Wire)
September 13, 2013

Taking Down Big Food Is The Name Of Chipotle's New Game

Chipotle Mexican Grill prides itself on the fact that it serves only "responsibly raised beef, pork and chicken."

That means the meat it buys comes from animals raised outside or in comfy pens, who are never given antibiotics and are fed an additive-free, vegetarian diet.

Sourcing that meat is getting harder as the chain has expanded to more than 1,500 stores. But the strategy of marketing itself as a fast food alternative to Big Food has clearly worked well for Chipotle.

Now Chipotle is betting that it can sell even more burritos by lambasting the Big Food companies that drug animals in the name of profit. That's the message of a new short film and game the company launched Thursday that takes a cue from advocacy films like The Meatrix.

As the short film, The Scarecrow, opens, we see a spindly scarecrow entering the monolithic factory of "Crow Foods Incorporated," where conveyor belts ferry boxes of "100% Beef-ish" and eggs and chicken dubiously labeled "all-natural." Through the cracks of a factory wall, the scarecrow spies chickens being injected with growth promoters. Inside a sky-scraping tower, he finds cows trapped in boxes staring blankly as they're pumped with something.

The soundtrack for this dystopian scene is Fiona Apple crooning the song "Pure Imagination" from the 1971 film classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

 

 

The dejected scarecrow rides home on the subway, and sees an ad and then a billboard for "farm fresh" Crow Foods "feeding the world" as pernicious robotic crows flutter around.

But this scarecrow is a proactive fellow. Rather than eating this shameful food, he goes out to the garden and picks a bright red pepper (subtle, Chipotle). We see him cooking in his small kitchen, and then presto! Our sad little scarecrow has become a happy little street food vendor, selling fresh tacos out of red plastic baskets that look quite a lot like what you'll get at the Mexican chain.

Chipotle's gleaming, super-efficient stores and revenue of over $800 million are more Big Food than taco stand. (McDonalds was even an investor for a spell.) But the chain seems to want to show solidarity with the emerging class of entrepreneurial artisans making food from scratch. We're the good guys, fighting the bad guys, it whispers.

The film, created in partnership with Academy Award-winning Moonbot Studios, is meant "to help people better understand the difference between processed food and the real thing," says Mark Crumpacker, chief marketing officer at Chipotle, in a statement.

It's also a teaser for the game, which is available for free on iPhone and iPad, and is all about taking down Crow Foods. According to Chipotle, the game encourages players to "tilt and tap your way through four unique worlds to protect vulnerable veggies, rescue caged animals, and bring fresh food to the citizens of Plenty, all while dodging the menacing Crowbots." Players who earn enough "stars" get a buy-one, get-one-free offer redeemable at Chipotle store.

The game is, of course, fictional, and doesn't name any of the livestock producers that cage animals and pump them with growth promoters and antibiotics in real life. But the aspiration is clear: Chipotle and its customers are coming for you, Big Food.


Piglets in a pen on a hog farm
(Jeff Roberson/AP)
August 30, 2013

Antibiotic Use On The Farm: Are We Flying Blind?

There's a heated debate over the use of antibiotics in farm animals. Critics say farmers overuse these drugs; farmers say they don't.

It's hard to resolve the argument, in part because no one knows exactly how farmers use antibiotics. There's no reliable data on how much antibiotic use is intended to make animals grow faster, for instance, compared to treating disease. Many public health experts say the government should collect and publish that information because antibiotic-resistant bacteria are an increasingly urgent problem. But many farm groups are opposed.

James Johnson, a professor of medicine and infectious disease at the University of Minnesota, is among those pushing for better data. He faces the problem of drug-resistant bacteria firsthand. When he prescribes antibiotics to patients, he increasingly has to ask himself, "Will this drug even work?"

"Resistance is turning up everywhere, and increasingly involves our first-line, favorite drugs," he says. "Everyone knows that we're in a real crisis situation."

There's no easy way out of the crisis because antibiotics are so valuable. Everybody wants to use them. Yet the more they're used, the more likely it is that bacteria will become resistant to them.

Johnson preaches restraint, using the drugs only when they're clearly necessary. He also says that we need to know much more about how antibiotics are currently being used. "Otherwise, we're sort of flying blind," he says.

"Are we flying blind right now? Or do we have the information we need?" I ask.

"Not at all. I think we're mostly flying blind, at least in the U.S.," Johnson says.

There's no comprehensive source of data on how doctors prescribe antibiotics to people, and there's even less information about drugs that are given to chickens, turkeys, hogs and cattle.

That's a big blind spot because antibiotics are commonly used on the farm to treat disease, to prevent disease and to help animals grow faster.

This stream of antibiotics does create drug-resistant bacteria. And people can be exposed to those bacteria through a variety of pathways.

It's set off a fierce debate over how much this contributes to the overall problem of drug-resistant infections. Morgan Scott, a researcher in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University, is trying to arrive at an answer. "As a researcher, it's a very intriguing area," he says. "But it's also frustrating because the data are really not there."

The only solid numbers on antibiotic use on the farm come from the Food and Drug Administration. Every year, the FDA lists the total quantity of antibiotics sold for use in farm animals, divided up by major drug class.

But Scott says those overall totals don't tell him what he'd like to know. "At the moment, we really can't identify whether certain uses of antibiotics are more or less risky than others," he says.

He'd love to know the patterns of antibiotic use — which drugs are used on each kind of animal, for what purpose, nationwide. If scientists tracked this over many years, they might be able to see which patterns of use create more drug-resistant bacteria.

There is a country that does collect this information. Denmark has led the world in efforts to control antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance. Every year it publishes a big volume of numbers — and Scott can't get enough of them. "Diving into these data, and visiting Denmark, is kind of like Disneyland for those of us who like big data," he says.

There are lots of people who want something similar for farms in the United States. They include public health experts, but also activist groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists. Congress is considering a bill that would force the FDA to collect this data and publish it.

But pharmaceutical companies and agricultural groups don't like that idea. They don't believe antibiotic use in animals is causing much of a problem for human health. They also don't think that detailed national statistics would even be useful.

"The amount of antibiotic used does not correlate to the potential public health threat," says Ron Phillips, a spokesman for the Animal Health Institute, which represents companies that sell veterinary drugs.

According to Phillips, if you really want to figure out which agricultural practices produce drug-resistant bacteria, you should study them up-close. Look at a few individual farms, examining what drugs are used and how bacteria adapt.

But don't create a national data collection system, he says. It would be a waste of money, and the numbers would just be misused by advocacy groups that are campaigning to restrict the use of antibiotics by farmers. "The widespread quotes that you see about how much is used in animal medicine, as opposed to human medicine — those are meant to scare people, not to inform people," he says.

One the other hand, Scott thinks better numbers could actually mean less suspicion and fear. Many people want to know exactly what meat producers are doing, he says. When they can't find the information they want, they're inclined to assume the worst.

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August 29, 2013

Danville Prison On Low-Level Lockdown

The Illinois Department of Corrections has put part of its prison in Danville on a low-level lockdown after inmates reported flu-like symptoms.

Department spokesman Tom Shaer said Thursday afternoon that one housing unit at the Danville Correctional Center in far eastern Illinois is under a Level 4 lockdown, the lowest level lockdown.

Shaer says the lockdown is a precaution and that tests are being done at a Chicago health lab. He says results of those tests should be available on Friday.


Junior Seau
(Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images)
August 29, 2013

NFL, Retirees Reach $765M Settlement On Concussions Suits

The NFL and more than 4,500 retired players have reached an agreement calling for the league to contribute $765 million to a fund that will pay "medical and other benefits, as well as compensation" to those who suffered concussions and related injuries during their careers.

Details of the agreement, which would settle concussion-related lawsuits by former players and still needs a judge's OK, were released by the league early Thursday afternoon.

According to that statement:

— "The settlement will include all players who have retired as of the date on which the Court grants preliminary approval to the settlement agreement, their authorized representatives, or family members (in the case of a former player who is deceased)."

— "The settlement does not represent, and cannot be considered, an admission by the NFL of liability, or an admission that plaintiffs' injuries were caused by football."

— $75 million will be spent on "baseline medical exams" for the former players.

— "$675 million [will go] to compensate former players who have suffered cognitive injury or their families."

— Other funds will be spent on research, education and other costs the players have accumulated.

Related: ESPN Pulls Out Of Joint Production With Frontline About NFL Concussions.


August 29, 2013

Report: Tobacco Sale Violations In Illinois Higher Than Most States

National figures released this week by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration show violations by retailers selling tobacco products to minors were at an all-time low last year.

However, according to the report, Illinois has the fourth largest percentage of violations. Sue Hofer is with the Illinois Liquor Commission, which oversees the state’s tobacco enforcement program.

“One of the things that we’re working on is doing a better job of training clerks to actually look at the age on the driver’s license rather than just assume because someone has one and shows it that they are of age,” Hofer said.

A U.S. Surgeon General's report last year found more needs to be done to prevent young people from using tobacco, including stricter smoking bans and higher taxes on tobacco products.

Illinois already prohibits smoking in restaurants, bars and other public indoor places, and it also recently banned the sale of e-cigarette to teenagers.


Chelsea Manning
(Patrick Semansky/AP)
August 27, 2013

Manning Would Pay For Hormone Treatment, Lawyer Says

Army Pvt. Chelsea Manning is willing to pay for estrogen treatments that would lead to breast development and other female characteristics, the lawyer for the former Bradley Manning tells The Associated Press.

According to the wire service:

"Attorney David Coombs told The Associated Press on Monday that Manning hoped the military prison [Fort Leavenworth] 'will simply do the right thing' based on the request for hormone treatment so the soldier will not have to sue in military or civilian court. Coombs said at this point, Manning does not want sex-reassignment surgery and expects to be kept with men in the prison where she's serving time for leaking mountains of classified material to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks."

The 25-year-old Manning, a former intelligence analyst, was sentenced by a military judge last Wednesday to 35 years in prison for giving WikiLeaks more than 700,000 documents and other materials. The records included copies of diplomatic cables, battlefield reports and video footage of a U.S. helicopter attack in Iraq. The earliest she might be released on parole is the year 2020.

The day after the sentence was handed down, the soldier who until then had been known as Bradley Manning released a statement saying, "I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female. Given the way that I feel, and have felt since childhood, I want to begin hormone therapy as soon as possible."

As The Associated Press wrote, "Manning's struggle with gender identity disorder" was an issue at the court-martial. Manning's attorneys presented evidence about the issue and raised questions about why the Army allowed Manning to stay in Iraq.

Since Manning's conviction and sentencing, Army officials have said that Fort Leavenworth does not provide hormone therapy for its all-male prison population.

Also Monday, Coombs wrote on his blog that Manning has chosen the middle name Elizabeth. And, there was word that the "Bradley Manning Support Network" has changed its name to the "Pvt. Manning Support Network."

Related: NPR Issues New Guidance On Manning's Gender Identity.


In this photo taken April 5, 2011, Annette Clark places glasses on her paralyzed son, Rocky Clark, in the bedroom at their home in Robbins, Ill.
(M. Spencer Green/AP)
August 26, 2013

IHSA Requires Insurance For Student Athletes

The Illinois High School Association has approved a policy to make sure its members are complying with a new law requiring them to get catastrophic insurance coverage for student athletes.

The IHSA board of directors approved the policy during its meeting Monday in Bloomington. The policy coincides with Gov. Pat Quinn signing a new law that requires Illinois high schools to have the insurance.

The law was inspired by the late Rasul "Rocky'' Clark, who played football in the Chicago suburbs. He was paralyzed from the neck down when he was tackled in 2000. Portions of his care were paid for through a $5 million school district insurance policy.

The IHSA made its group plan insurance available to its member schools in mid-August. The IHSA insures athletes in postseason events.


Arick Buckles
(M. Spencer Green/AP)
August 14, 2013

Settlement Reached For Chicago Man Denied HIV Drugs In Jail

A settlement has been reached between the Bureau County Sheriff's Office and a Chicago man who claimed in a lawsuit he was prevented from taking his HIV medication while being held in jail.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois announced the settlement Wednesday.

The agreement was filed in federal court in Peoria. The sheriff's office agreed to conduct mandatory training for jail staff and to pay $20,000 to Arick Buckles of Chicago.

Buckles filed a lawsuit last year claiming he was denied his prescribed medication for a week at the jail in Princeton.

Skipping HIV medications can raise a patient's virus count, making the patient more contagious and raising the risk of developing drug resistance.

Bureau County Sheriff John Thompson declined to comment on the settlement.


 Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., center, flanked by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, right, and Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala.
(J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
August 12, 2013

US Sen. Kirk Visit To Central Illinois First Since Stroke

U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk is making his first trip to central Illinois since his January 2012 stroke.

Kirk's keynote appearance at Republican Day at the Illinois State Fair Thursday will be his first major political event since he revealed his intention to run for re-election in 2016.

The Highland Park Republican was first elected to President Barack Obama's former Senate seat in 2010 and has been influential in reshaping the party's political strategy.

Kirk's spokesman says the senator will not endorse anyone in the 2014 Republican gubernatorial primary.

Along with his appearance at the State Fair, Kirk also will host a veterans' job fair in Peoria with Republican U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock on Wednesday.

Kirk attends therapy three days a week while in Washington and at home in Highland Park.


August 08, 2013

Experimental Malaria Vaccine Shows Promise In Early Trial

A viable, effective vaccine against malaria has long eluded scientists. Results from a preliminary study have ignited hope that a new type of vaccine could change that.

An experimental vaccine offered strong protection against malaria when given at high doses, scientists report Thursday in the journal Science.

The study was extremely small and short-term. And the candidate vaccine still has a long way to go before it could be used in the developing world.

Nevertheless, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who leads the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, calls the findings unprecedented.

The vaccine, called PfSPZ, protected 12 of the 15 volunteers from malaria, including all six who received the high dose. By contrast, 11 of the 12 participants who weren't vaccinated came down with malaria.

"It's true to say that this is really impressive to have this degree of protection," Fauci says about the results. "But on the other hand you have to temper it by saying the numbers are still relatively small."

The trial needs to be replicated on a far larger scale, he says. And it's still unknown how long the malaria protection lasts.

The participants in this study were all bitten by five mosquitoes infected with the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum three weeks after getting the vaccine shot.

Because everyone got exposed at the same time, this study wasn't designed to show how PfSPZ works over time. For any vaccine to be successful in the field, it would need to ward off the disease for years after the inoculation. Three weeks would be way too short.

Previous experimental vaccines have shown some effectiveness against the malaria parasite, but none have provided high levels of protection against the disease. In November, another candidate vaccine showed disappointing results in tests among young infants, though it provided children moderate protection against the parasite.

PfSPZ is different from these previous vaccines because it uses whole, weakened parasites to trigger an immune response, instead of just a small part of the parasite, like a protein on its surface.

"We don't have any vaccines against parasitic infections like malaria because the parasite is so complex. It changes itself in your body. It morphs from one stage to the next," says Stephen Hoffman, the CEO of the Rockville, Md., company Sanaria, which developed PfSPZ.

Specially, PfSPZ gets certain immune cells, called T cells, to attack the parasite directly, instead of relying primarily on an antibody response.

"The idea that somehow one is going to make a vaccine that just attacks one of those thousands of proteins, and that's going to provide long-term protective immunity has always seemed odd to me," he says. "But that's what all the other approaches are about."

Sanaria is moving quickly to conduct larger scale trials of PfSPZ in Africa. A study in Tanzania is slated to start in six weeks.

If things go well with the upcoming trials, Hoffman says, the earliest the vaccine might be available for widespread use would be in late 2017 or early 2018.

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