McDonald’s announced today that it’s making a greater effort at offering transparency and engagement to the public, in a new campaign it’s calling “Our Food, Your Questions.” McDonald’s has a serious image problem and a sagging bottom line, which might explain its sudden willingness to fling the barn door open as a way to shed its reputation for serving mass-produced, unhealthy food. Showing the public how the sausage is made may win favor with some consumers, but a better strategy for the fast food giant would be to make truly meaningful commitments to sustainability.
McDonald’s realizes people have big questions about the quality and origins of their food. So the company that serves 28 million people daily in the U.S. is now promising straightforward answers. McDonald’s is releasing behind-the scenes web vignettes and infographics, which will apparently illustrate the production process behind its products like Chicken McNuggets and the McRib, and how they go from “farm to restaurant.” It also says it will listen to real customers’ questions online and answer honestly in real time.
McDonald’s has also enlisted professional skeptic and former “MythBusters” co-host Grant Imahara, who is featured in a series of webisode videos addressing consumers’ persistent doubts and questions. “We know some people–both McDonald’s fans and skeptics–continue to have questions about our food from the standpoint of the ingredients or how food is prepared at the restaurant. This is our move to ensure we engage people in a two-way dialogue about our food and answer the questions and address their comments,” Kevin Newell, EVP-chief brand and strategy officer for McDonald’s USA, told BurgerBusiness.com.
Until now, what happens behind the curtain at McDonald’s has been invisible to most of us. But because the company’s supply chain is so long, and it sources raw ingredients from such a wide array of locations and facilities, it would be impossible for any one tour, vignette, or infographic to show more than a sliver of what goes on at the farm, factory, and processing levels.
And while it’s angling for the farm-to-table crowd, as the world’s largest buyer of beef and pork with hamburgers for as low as one dollar, McDonald’s current practices will probably still be considered factory-farm-to-table.
“McDonald’s is making important progress away from gestation crates in its pork supply chain, though nearly all of its eggs in the U.S. still come from birds locked inside battery cages so small they can’t spread their wings.” Paul Shapiro, Vice President of Farm Animal Protection at the Humane Society of the United States, told me. “This is in contrast to McDonald’s policies in Europe and UK, where its eggs are all cage-free.”
Online, McDonald’s answers some questions about its products. So far, I didn’t see any questions (or answers) about antibiotic use or whether its eggs are cage-free, even in its section on “sourcing and sustainability.” Here’s what they do answer. On beef hormones: “Most of the cattle we get our beef from are treated with added hormones, a common practice in the U.S. that ranchers use to promote growth.” On feeding animals GMO feed: “Generally speaking, farmers feed their livestock a balanced diet that includes grains, like corn and soybeans. Over 90% of the U.S. corn and soybean crops are GMO, so cattle, chickens and pigs in our supply chain do eat some GMO crops.”
And while it says it no longer uses “pink slime” in its burgers, it does use an anti-foaming agent, dimethylpolysiloxane, in the oil it uses to cook Chicken McNuggets. It also cops to using azodicarbonamide, AKA “the yoga mat ingredient,” in its buns and sandwiches, saying it has many uses: “Think of salt: the salt you use in your food at home is a variation of the salt you may use to de-ice your sidewalk.” As for why its U.S. menu contains items that are banned in Europe? “Every country has different food safety and regulatory standards and, because of this, ingredients will vary in our restaurants around the world. But no matter where you’re dining with us—in the U.S. or abroad—you can be assured of the quality and safety of our food.” Not really an answer most are looking for.