McDonald’s Pushes for Sustainable Beef

mcdonalds beef burger patty
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A comment I received on my post about re-evaluating the good and bad of the Paleo diet really got me thinking. It essentially said that you can eat a Paleo-style diet at McDonald’s. Of course I wanted to run, scream, and throw things at the computer screen. Surely a burger patty on the dollar menu contains more than just beef. That would be too easy. I was positive it must contain fillers and enhancers of some sort, more than likely soy or corn (which would make it not Paleo). Admittedly I’m not a McDonald’s connoisseur, so it’s a good thing I checked the ingredient list before spewing off a response (in my head, not for real). According to McDonald’s nutrition information, the beef patty is simply that: 100% beef. So I guess technically it’s Paleo. Which of course led me down another train of thought: if you can eat Paleo at McDonald’s, it can’t be that hard to stick with. (The difficulty of following the diet was one of the major reasons it sunk to the bottom of the US News and World Report List.)

But sticking with one train of thought at a time, is the Big Mac, minus all the mac-ness, really as bad as I thought? Maybe it’s not the chemical-laden monster I thought it was, so I took some time to look into it. (It’s not pink slime, thank goodness.) Turns out McDonald’s is making moves to serve “verified sustainable” beef beginning in 2016. That sounds promising. But what is “verified sustainable beef”? Well, nothing. Yet.

There’s no legal definition of this term, which is bound to cause confusion. It’s similar to how “all natural” doesn’t exactly mean what it sounds like. Fortunately (I guess?) Mickey D’s is working to change that too. They’ve helped form the Global Roundtable on Sustainable Beef, which is an important start to the discussion of “what’s sustainable beef?” While the group is looking to define the term “sustainable,” they’re also looking at many facets of the beef industry as a whole, including animal health and welfare, human rights, ecosystem health, and food safety and quality.

I have to say I’m impressed by the ambition, but I certainly see a lot of loopholes and setbacks along the way. Nonetheless, this global fast food chain leader has already enacted changes that surprise me, given the reputation of food quality in fast food restaurants. They’ve made progress in sourcing sustainable fish and palm oil, as well as coffee certified by the Rainforest Alliance. Beef is a big one, though. Not only is it a huge portion of the McDonald’s product, but it’s not as simple as getting meat from cattle raised on reputable farms. McDonald’s purchases their burgers as frozen patties, meaning there’s not a direct line from cattle to counter. The supply chain becomes long and convoluted, and it’s going to be a long and laborious effort to establish checks and balances for each step along the way.

Though it will be a long time before we as consumers reap the benefits of these motions, I find it admirable. A company of that size could easily say “who cares?” and laugh happily to the bank with their billions of dollars. But because they’re such a big company, they know the effects of their actions go beyond their customers’ tastebuds. Beef production in particular takes a huge toll on the environment, especially when you consider not just greenhouse gas emissions, but land degradation, water contamination, fertilizers and pesticides, the use of natural resources, and more. (Twenty-eight percent of McDonald’s carbon footprint is due to beef.) If a company as big as McDonald’s can make a change like this, the ripple effect could be widespread.

Now whether I’d go as far as to say McDonald’s fits the Paleo lifestyle, well, to each his own definition. Regardless, I’m excited to see where this move takes the fast food industry (among others) in the next few years.


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