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Hold the beef: McDonalds is avoiding the bold step it needs to reduce its emissions | Environment

Hold the beef: McDonalds is avoiding the bold step it needs to reduce its emissions | Environment

A McDonalds drive-thru sign in Philadelphia.

EMcDonalds spends approximately $2.5 billion annually. 1.9bn lbIt uses a large amount of beef to make patties for millions upon millions of Happy Meals.

The company and its suppliers have to slaughter north of the staggering amount of meat due to the volume of meat they produce. 7 Million CattleSome estimates suggest that this comes at a significant cost to the environment. 53m metric tonnesThe greenhouse gas emissions from McDonald’s in 2019 exceeded those of several European countries.

The company has made many announcements in recent years. Sustainability initiativesBut climate experts who examined McDonalds data and plans found that McDonalds is largely avoiding the one bold step it needs to reduce its carbon footprint: drastically reducing the amount it serves of beef.

The truth is that McDonalds is operating a business that is fundamentally incompatible with the Earth’s integrity, according to Gidon Eshel, a Bard College professor of urban studies and environmental studies. No amount of convincing or covering can alter this fact.

A McDonalds drive-thru sign in Philadelphia.
McDonald’s revenues jumped 14% to $6.2bn between July and September 2021. Photograph: Matt Rourke/AP

McDonald’s has announced its most recent announcement. recent planIn October, companies were under increasing pressure to act. Late September saw investment funds manage assets of more than $29tn. Call onThe world’s 1,600 largest polluters are to reduce their emissions in accordance with climate science. A recent study revealed that the world’s food system is responsible for around one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. The beef industry accounts for as much as 25%.

Beef is especially problematic because cows release methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas. A pound of meat requires approximately 3.5 gallons of water, feed, and land. Much higherThey are more carbon-intensive than other animals and this increases their carbon footprint. Eshel explained that raising cows is a multidimensional problem for the Earth. It also pollutes, takes water, and causes deforestation.

McDonalds’ announcements indicate that it is already on the right track to reducing its emissions. It is. 2018 Sustainability PlanThe company pledged that by 2030, it would reduce total emissions from its offices by 36% and reduce emissions intensity in its supply chain by 31%. This is a significant improvement on 2015 levels. The company made an announcement in October that it would achieve net zero emissions by 2050. It also included optimistic projections. Progress ReportOn the 2018 emission reductions goals.

Climate scientists disagree. called into questionIt is hard to believe that McDonalds 2018 plans have been implemented. However, a closer inspection of its 2021 progress report reveals that McDonalds has made very little progress. Environmental groups have also criticized the new net-zero plan for its lackluster details and long timeline.

Jennifer Molidor is a senior food campaigner with Center for Biological Diversity. She said that it is more important that there are no changes in the menu to reduce beef production and emission.

She said that the most effective solution to the climate crisis would be to serve far less beef and shift towards low-carbon options. But, this megacorporation is not taking the action we need. It is possible that their motivations are not to reduce climate change, but to manage investors.

A McDonalds spokesperson stated that they have been taking ambitious steps to address climate changes in areas where the company has the greatest potential for impact.

It called criticisms of its plans “opinion-based.”


Molidor stated you must be a climate nerd in order to understand the story McDonalds complex numbers tell. That alone is a red alert.

She said that one of the signs that something is not transparent or clear is that it is greenwashing.

McDonalds October Press releaseOur restaurants and offices have seen an 8.5% decrease in absolute emissions since 2015.

Restaurants and offices make up a small percentage of McDonalds’ emissions. This means that the 8.5% slice is actually much smaller than what marketing portrays. According to Dexter Galvin (global director of corporations and supply chain for CDP), the drop is mainly due to McDonalds switching from more energy-efficient lightbulbs in its nearly 40,000 restaurants. The non-profit environmental transparency works with McDonalds and other large corporations to assess and implement progress on climate plans.

Galvin acknowledged that it was a positive first step, but it is not a significant reduction. He said that this will require changes to the company’s beef operation. The press release highlights McDonalds progress in that area: A 5.9% decrease of supply chain emissions intensity compared to 2015.

Cows at a feedlot.
High levels of methane are released by cows in their burps and manure. Photograph: Nati Harnik/AP

But, emissions are still rising, though they are slightly less than they were previously. Emissions intensity is the amount of emissions per product. Emissions can increase if a company grows, such as McDonalds. According to data provided by CDP, the company’s emissions from its beef production and supply chain increased by around 30% between 2017 and 2019.

Galvin stated that McDonalds is working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from its beef operations and supply chains. However, Galvin added that they must show significant reductions and that they will need to diversify their menu offerings.

McDonalds has not released the full net zero plan. It also did not specify what measures it would include. However, such plans are often criticized for allowing polluters to continue releasing high levels greenhouse gases over the next several decades. Net zero programs often rely upon carbon offset schemes to offset the company’s continuing emissions. Multiple investigations have shown that these schemes are flawed carbon calculations. Uncertain impactscarbon capture technology, which can be expensive and is not yet being used at scale.

Molidor stated that even though McDonald’s plans and metrics can be complex and controversial, they have high marketing value as they give the impression of real progress.

She said that McDonald’s is profiting from people who don’t understand this type of math.

Companies might make it more popular to eat a smaller hamburger

Last year, Burger King rolled outLemongrass has been added to beef from cows so that it says burp or fart less, according to German researchers. Potty trainingThey claim that a cow’s strategy will reduce greenhouse gas emission.

Some argue that reducing consumption is the best approach. However, the beef industry’s contribution to the climate crisis requires a whole-food system approach, according to Mario Herrero, Cornell University sustainability food systems professor. This includes creative solutions to improve animal care, reduce waste, and more. However, Herrero said that McDonalds low prices, accessibility, and high emissions are the main reasons for its popularity.

He stated that one important aspect of beef production is to educate the public about the health, environmental, and economic costs. Beef should also be priced and consumed accordingly.

Herrero stated that McDonalds and any other producer who is serious about the issue will send a message to reduce consumption and include the true cost for beef.

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Governments could tax beef, impose regulations and cut massive industry subsidies to keep low prices. 2015 AnalysisA study found that the price of a US Big Mac would increase from $5 to $13 when $38bn in meat subsidies was removed. Donald Trump and his right-wing allies have already increased beef consumption. Culture war flashpointHerrero acknowledged that such moves would be politically sensitive.

McDonalds is years behind its rivals in terms of political will. White Castle, Burger KingMore information on fully introducing plant-based hamburger options. McDonalds started testing the McPlant in five American locations and a handful of European countries. This yearAlthough it had not tested a plant-based burger in Canada in 2019, it did so.The trial should be canceled.

Galvin stated that McDonalds spends 40 billion dollars annually on procurements, and it must use this leverage to quickly convince its suppliers to use more sustainable methods.

He said that they need to leverage their influence in their supply chains to reduce emissions massively. They are running out of time.

McDonalds stated that McDonalds is a small component of the global food system. They also said that added beef and animal proteins are an important part of people’s lives and livelihoods around the world, and will continue to do so for many years to come.

Molidor stated that McDonalds claims it offers what customers want. However, McDonalds denies it doesn’t meet the demand it drives. By choosing to use its $650m annual marketing budgetShe said that it was primarily to sell low-cost beef products on its menus. This directly increases consumption.

Molidor said that people don’t eat what isn’t on the menu. Companies could make it more acceptable to eat a smaller hamburger, a salad with no chicken, or more wraps. This could change the face of American fast food. Instead, they are creating a triple-cheeseburger.

Eshel said that McDonalds plays a significant role in maintaining the American beef culture, but consumers must weigh the consequences before they eat their next Big Mac.

The culture of beef does not promote Earth’s well-being. We must choose whether to eat beef and let Earth die, or do we forgo beef and give Earth a fighting chance.

This article was updated on 16 December 2021 to clarify information regarding McDonald’s net zero plan. The emissions data provided to CDP only covered 2017-19, not 2017-20. They were 30%, not 40%. McDonald’s emissions were 53,000,000 tonnes in 2019, and not 2020.

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