Friday, November 6, 2009
Is your McDonald's burger killing the rainforest?
Recently I read that the main reason people are cutting down the rain forest, at a rate of 72 acres a minute, is so they can use that land to grow cows...to export to the USA! Who's eating all this beef anyway? This claim was targeting McDonald's specifically, so I wanted to investigate. My feeling is that big beef has big money, and they might 'have a cow' if McDonald's was importing beef. According to McDonald's website, their sole beef supplier is Lopez foods (it is also of interest that they only actually have three food suppliers total). Upon examining Lopez's website, they actually only process meat, they don't raise cows. They did not have a list of their suppliers on their website, but are themselves based in Oklahoma. This proved to be a dead-end. I decided to investigate with the feds, they always provide a lot of data if you have the patience to find it. As it turns out the USDA regulates imports of beef and poultry to the US. They have a list of who we imported beef and poultry from in 2008. Since I'm a fan of basic statistics, and the 'cumulative' column on this list lacked explanation, it looks like the statement from earlier just isn't true. According to my calculations, only about 5% of the US imported beef and poultry is actually from Central and South America. The US consumes nearly 20 billion pounds of beef annually (an excessive amount, averaging out to everyone eating beef once a day). Imports comprise only 3 billion pounds of this (this assumes that all imported meat is beef, so technically we import less beef), so Central and South American beef is actually less than only .003% of all US consumed beef. I think that we eat much more McDonald's in this country than that. This cutting down the rain forest for McDonald's burgers just doesn't hold water for me. But the source is actually from 1996, perhaps our food policy is improving. Why I bring this up is that, what IF your burger was literally destroying the rain forest? Would you do all this research to find out if it were true? Likely not. The real value of this questionable claim is that it makes you think about the impact of traveling food, and question where your food comes from in the first place. Truth be told, the CO2 output from transporting beef from farms in the US to Oklahoma and then to every McDonald's in the country is quite high as it is, it's a giant impact! Put that on top of the environmental impact of beef farming alone and it's ridiculous. Even if your burger isn't cutting down trees, it could have a significant impact regardless. I would urge you to choose vegetarian/vegan options when you're eating out and have no way to determine the source of that food, and therefore it's impact on the greater world. When and if you choose to eat meat, do so mindfully. Take it to heart that the higher on the food chain you climb, the more resources were used to produce this food. And if you ARE going to choose to have an increased impact by eating an animal, at least let the transport of that food be minimal. Most of all, think before you eat.