A new U.S. sustainability campaign from one of the world’s biggest fast food chains, training its lens on beef cattle passing gas, has “disappointed” some cattle producers while also proposing its own new feedlot ration as a way to help cut emissions.
Burger King, owned by Toronto-based Restaurant Brands International, on Tuesday launched the “#CowsMenu” initiative, which it bills as “a scalable solution with the potential to reduce cows’ impact on climate change.”
“Select” U.S. Burger King restaurants in New York, Miami, Austin, Portland and Los Angeles on Tuesday were to begin a limited launch of what it calls the Reduced Methane Emissions Beef Whopper, a sandwich “made with beef sourced from cows that emit reduced methane.”
The chain, in its announcement Tuesday, cited estimates from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) pegging the livestock sector responsible for 14.5 per cent of all human-induced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions — and beef production as responsible for 41 per cent of that amount.
To that end, the chain said, it has “teamed up” with “top-level” scientists from the University of California at Davis and the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico to study different herbs, such as chamomile and lemongrass, to supplement “a new diet for cows that could help them digest better and release less methane.”
“As a result, we found that by adding 100 grams of dried lemongrass leaves to the cows’ daily feed, we were able to see a reduction of up to 33 per cent on average of methane emissions” during the final three to four months of the animal’s life on feed, Burger King said.
A summary of the Mexican researchers’ work, posted on Burger King’s website, cautioned that feeding lemongrass at levels higher than two per cent of daily dry matter intake was shown to negatively affect digestibility of dry matter and fibre fractions.
The summary also cautioned that more research is needed to gauge the effects of supplementing the tested herbs on “other variables” such as rumen microbe populations, rumen fermentation and volatile fatty acid production.
The summary also notes more research is needed to evaluate whether the reduction in methane emissions “is maintained over the long term.”
Burger King emphasized the research behind the new ration is still under peer review; it hasn’t yet been posted in full on the chain’s website.
The company also said it will “continue to partner with higher education institutions and industry scientists to conduct additional research on this topic and will periodically report on our findings.”
The chain also said it plans to “open source” its #CowsMenu ration formula, making it “publicly available so that every fast food brand, meat supplier, and farmer can replicate, test and refine it.”
“Beef is one of the top commodities that we buy at Burger King. We also know that cattle are one of the top contributors to overall greenhouse gas emissions, so our job is to understand how we can continue to grow our business while still reducing the emissions from cattle over time,” Matt Banton, the chain’s head of innovation and sustainability, said on YouTube.
The campaign, however, has left the U.S. National Cattlemen’s Beef Association “disappointed.”
U.S. burger restaurants “can, and many of them do, play a vital role in helping improve beef’s sustainability and reducing its environmental footprint,” the NCBA said in a release.
“Unfortunately, Burger King has chosen a different path, relying on kitschy imagery that misrepresents basic bovine biology — cattle emissions come from burps, not farts — and on the potential impact of a single ruminant nutrition study that was so small and poorly conceived, it was dismissed by many leading (non-government organizations) and beef industry experts.”
The NCBA, in a statement Tuesday, cited data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) attributing “just two per cent of greenhouse gas emissions to the American cattle industry.”
Cattle farmers and ranchers “remain committed to continuous improvement and producing beef more sustainably,” the association said, and thus “are disappointed that Burger King has decided to follow a path that is misaligned with those who are already making real-world efforts to reduce beef’s environmental footprint.”
Rather, the NCBA said, Burger King is “opting instead to score easy points with consumers by launching a misleading public relations campaign.” — Glacier FarmMedia Network