It’s a Whopper: Burger King’s misinformed shot at their supply chain
Burger King rolled out their marketing campaign featuring a young, gas mask-donning country crooner, images of Holstein cows, and Reduced Methane Emissions Beef, citing, in a separate video, that they believe if they are part of the problem, they ought to be part of the solution of greenhouse gas emissions.
The studies they’re basing the marketing splash upon, however, are neither published nor are they peer reviewed and the sample size is small. Additionally, Frank Mitloehner, one the world’s foremost experts in air quality, told Farm Journal Live that the study conducted at the University of California Davis was “inconclusive” and the study in Mexico has not been published, calling the claims “premature.”
Restaurant Brands International, the parent company of Burger King, Popeyes and Tim Hortons, lists on its website their commitment to advance beef sustainability based on the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef principles. Their goal specifically for Burger King restaurants is to increase the proportion of beef sourced that aligns with their vision for beef sustainability to 30 percent of the beef supply by 2022.
“Beef is one of the top commodities that we buy at Burger King,” Matt Banton, head of innovation and sustainability, Burger King, said in a statement. “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.”
The company said they worked with scientists in the U.S. and Mexico to study herbs including chamomile, cosmos bipinnatus, and lemongrass to reduce methane emissions. Their results suggest reductions of up to 33 percent by adding 100 grams of dried lemongrass to their finishing ration.
Their first round of research with the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico was with Octavio A. Castelan-Ortega to test the three aforementioned herbs in the last three months of the finishing period on four head of cattle. Using respiration chambers to measure the methane released by the cattle, they said by using the cosmos bipinnatus and lemongrass reduced methane emissions by 29 to 33 percent respectively. The second round of research, again in Mexico, was conducted on four head of cattle again testing the same three plants. Due to the seasonal availability of cosmos, the company said lemongrass was the smarter option for further investment. The feeding rate of lemongrass was the subject of the third study in Mexico and determined a 2 percent feeding rate would result in a 25.8 percent reduction in emissions.
The next study was conducted at the UC Davis with Ermias Kebreab where nine head were studied over 10 weeks to determine changes based on whether the lemongrass was dry or wet and what the 2 percent rate’s effect was on weight gain. Methane emissions this time were measured using the Green Feed Respiration Sample System, an automated head chamber system.
The studies then went to the feedyard with Burger King’s purchase of 50 head of cattle. Methane emissions were not measured in this portion of the study as they said it was impractical.
Burger King released a how-to video for producers to utilize the feeding method in their own operations, complete with drying and chopping instructions. The lemongrass used is Cymbopogon citratus, which grows in tropical, subtropical, and Mediterranean climates, which they do admit on their website, are not in proximity to “significant beef producing regions.”
According to a 2008 study cited in the video, it is the antimicrobial and antiprotozoal properties contained in lemongrass that can modify rumen fermentation and reduce rumen methane formation.
After drying and chopping, Burger King instructs the lemongrass be fed at the rate of 100g per head per day with a standard diet of 80.6 percent concentrate and 19.4 percent forage (9.7 percent alfalfa, 9.7 percent oat hay, 5.7 percent soybean meal, 68 percent steam flaked corn, 4.9 percent molasses, and 1.9 percent protected fat).
RUNNING THE NUMBERS
Based on the lowest price The Fence Post Magazine could identify for lemongrass, feeding the 100g per day for 90 days would add an additional ration cost of $167.51 per head. Tony Bryant, director of nutrition, research, and analytics at Five Rivers Cattle Feeding, said this would nearly double the cost of the ration in the same time period. Bryant said it varies by region, but he estimates the total ration fed to cattle in the last 90 days of the feeding period to cost about $180.
Bryant said Five Rivers Cattle Feeding is consistently researching various ration formulations with ingredients including essential oils.
“We do a lot of things right,” Bryant said. “We’re always looking for new things, we’re always trying for continuous improvement and get better through research and our practices.”
Bryant said the typical feedyard finishing ration is more efficient than grass finishing as more of the energy goes to weight rather than a higher roughage diet where more of the diet is lost to emissions.
Ionophores are another ration additive that have been studied and are widely fed, he said. From soil bacteria, ionophores select for bacteria that produce more propionate, a Volatile Fatty Acid more likely to be turned into glucose compared to other VFAs like acetate that produce more methane.
Bryant said Five Rivers also feeds cattle for a natural market to meet consumer demand for that product, in addition to conventionally raised beef.
“We don’t believe it’s our place to dictate, people vote with their pocketbooks and we’ll do what we’re asked to produce as long as we can be made whole and not lose money on the deal, we’re willing to do those things,” he said.
Feed trials have been completed using citral, one of the components of lemongrass, oregano essential oil, capsaicin, direct fed microbials, and yeast byproducts. Unfortunately, he said none of the trials have yielded higher performance, higher efficiency, and added value.
In terms of transportation emissions, Bryant said ration inputs are primarily sourced locally, including corn (though some comes from the Midwest in the winter months), silage, hay, vitamin and mineral package, whey, dry distillers grains, and alfalfa. The lemongrass used in Burger King’s trials was sourced both from California and Mexico.
Among the misinformation in the ad campaign, Bryant said cattle, specifically feedyard cattle, emit only 2 to 3 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, not the 14.5 percent of global emissions Burger King claimed. He added the methane in question is converted to CO2 for photosynthesis so the beef industry is not adding any greenhouse gases due to the cycle.
“The data — and we’re very open to looking at it — is just not proven,” he said. “It’s a small trial, it’s not published, it’s not peer reviewed and it wasn’t done on a large scale, which is what we would do to replicate a trial like that that showed something promising.”
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association CEO Colin Woodall said in a statement that Burger King, rather than playing “a vital role in helping improve beef’s sustainability and reducing its environmental footprint” 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 NGOs and beef industry experts.”
The Reduced Methane Emissions Beef is available in select restaurants in Miami, New York City, Los Angeles, Austin, Portland during the month of July. ❖
— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (970) 768-0024.
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