Climate Change Is Ruining Your Chipotle, So Now It's Time To Sit Up And Pay Attention

If you were thinking about going vegetarian, now might be the time. Thanks to severe droughts and other weather changes, Chipotle announced Tuesday that prices will increase by six percent, or 48 cents. The price hike will apply to any menu item that has a steak option — yes, even burrito bowls. Although the franchise already charges more for a steak burrito than a chicken one, Chipotle Chief CFO Jack Hartung told The Associated Press the increase will widen that gap even more. "We're going to allow our customers to choose whether they want to pay the higher price of steak," Hartung said.

Talks about raising the price of Chipotle's beloved burritos have been going on for awhile. According to the AP, executives previously discussed a three to five percent increase, or 24 cents to 40 cents. But the popular fast-food chain, which has more than 1,600 stores nationwide, is feeling squeezed following a crippling drought in the western United States that — surprise, surprise — greatly affected cattle inventory.

The drought, which is mainly harming cattle in California, is forcing many ranchers to pack up and move eastward to Nevada, Nebraska and Texas. According to Reuters, an estimated 100,000 cattle have left California over the last four months as the creeks dried up.

"If there's no water and no feed, you move the cows," rancher Gaylord Wright told the news source. "You move them or they die."

Americans consume more than 37 million tons of meat each year. Beef prices across the nation have skyrocketed — and not just because of the California drought. According to the Texas Beef Council, beef prices are at a record high due to a drought there that began in 2010 and forced many ranchers to reduce the size of their herds. The council said the average retail price of fresh beef is now $5.28 a pound, up by 5.4 percent from 2013.

Chipotle is not the only food company that's taking a hit. The yellow, water-less pastures in Texas and California are causing other restauranteurs to hike up their prices — or find other options. Alex Macedo, head of Burger King's North American operations, told the AP that the fast-food franchise is staying afloat because it's marketing chicken dishes more aggressively.

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Meanwhile, beef prices are expected to climb higher at your local deli or supermarket, too. You may also have to start shelling out more for fruits and vegetables — 10 to 20 percent of certain California crops could be lost due to the drought.

The Environmental Agency's drought indicators show that the United States is currently in the middle of a "moderate drought," with roughly 30 to 70 percent of land experiencing abnormally dry. It's one of the worst droughts to hit the nation in several decades. The EPA adds that livestock are not only especially vulnerable to droughts, but also heat waves, which are expected to increase under climate change in the coming years.