Amid continuous bouts of bad press and slumping sales, fast food giant McDonald’s has put significant resources into revamping its brand. It has experimented with all-day breakfast, salad options, and various new additions to its menus all around the world, including chocolate drizzled fries. In its latest attempt to counteract bad publicity, McDonald’s announced this week that starting next year, its popular Quarter Pounder burger will be made with fresh beef.
This might leave some wondering what kind of beef they were using before. The restaurant chain was, like many major fast food companies, using frozen patties. According to a company press release, however, McDonald’s will now “serve fresh beef, prepared when ordered, in all Quarter Pounder burgers across the majority of its restaurants.” Hawaii and Alaska will not be included in the new program “because of the distance and the logistics involved in shipping there,” according to McDonald’s spokesperson Becca Hary.
The company’s release acknowledges consumers’ increasing shift toward health consciousness:
The fresh beef burgers, cooked right when ordered, are the latest step the company has made to meet customers’ changing expectations. All McDonald’s burgers use 100 percent pure beef with absolutely no fillers, additives or preservatives.
This is undoubtedly a step in the right direction for the company, which has been slammed for a variety of issues with their meat; in 2015, one of their suppliers was the target of an undercover investigation that recorded employees physically abusing chickens ultimately destined for McDonald’s products. It was also criticized for its use of additives and chemicals in its fries and its use of antibiotics in its livestock.
The company did take measures to improve the quality of its ingredients. According to a report on antibiotic use in fast food meat published last year by the Natural Resource Defense Council, the Center for Food Safety, and other advocacy groups, “McDonald’s earns an improved grade of “C+” [from the previous year] for completing its transition of its chicken supply, reporting that an impressive 100 percent of the chicken served at its roughly 14,000 U.S. restaurants is now raised without antibiotics important in human medicine.”
Nevertheless, as the report, titled “Chain Reaction II,” pointed out, “the company made no commitments for its beef and pork.”
This is an industry-wide problem not limited to McDonald’s. According to Chain Reaction II, “very little progress has been made on pork and beef” among many fast food retailers.
Conspicuously absent from McDonald’s press release this week was any mention of antibiotics in beef, even though that same announcement highlighted their previous move to remove the medications from their chickens. Though they touted the absence of additives and fillers in their upcoming Quarter Pounders, they did not announce the removal of antibiotics from the beef. The use of human antibiotics in meat has led some experts to worry about the rise of antibiotic resistance and superbugs.
While it’s certainly an improvement to remove substances added to beef after the cow has been slaughtered, other potentially harmful practices continue. As the NRDC report also noted, “[h]ormones are widely used in U.S. animal agriculture to promote faster growth, 62 despite known adverse impacts on animal welfare, as well as concerns about potential impacts on human health.”
The report continued:
The beef industry uses six hormones—three naturally occurring hormones (estradiol, progesterone, and testosterone) and three synthetic hormones (zeranol, melengestrol acetate, and trenbolone acetate).
Considering the “fresh beef” option only applies to one specific burger — and that the company apparently has not committed to removing hormones and antibiotics, to name a couple unsavory substances — its recent rollout is less than revolutionary.
Nevertheless, even the NRDC report acknowledged the changing attitudes of fast food retailers in the face of changing consumer preferences. Though the change is occurring slowly, it appears McDonald’s slowing profits are providing incentives for them to gradually improve their products. As Chain Reaction II pointed out:
No doubt, the public-facing campaigns aimed at McDonald’s, Subway, Yum! Brands (parent company to KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut), Darden (owner of Olive Garden), and others, initiated by the organizations participating in this report and our allies, coupled with action by the investor community, are making a difference…Companies are on notice that their customers and shareholders will hold them accountable for drug use practices in their meat and poultry supply chains.