Burger King claims that its new ad, which has now been posted across its social media networks, is an effort to improve the environmental impact of beef. What it does is make beef production as we know it today to be a villain — all to the tune of a cutesy, colorful video that talks about “cow farts” and methane release. What Burger King doesn’t tell you is that farmers and ranchers have already long been improving per-unit methane emissions from livestock, which has been in marked decline since 1990, while livestock producers have also increased productivity.
But that would clash with BK trying to show that it’s wanting to be “squeaky clean” — even as its young cowboy-clad guitarist begins the video coming out of the hindquarters of a cow.
Some companies simply never learn when it comes to using children to bash a competing product or to deceptively market a concept. The tactic backfired spectacularly two years ago when Stonyfield tried it, causing the food company to expend countless resources doing online damage control.
In its ad, Burger King’s central point is to say that it will change its cattle’s diet by adding lemongrass to reduce their emissions by approximately 33 percent. But, after Ermias Kebreab, an Associate Dean at the University of California-Davis, came onto Twitter to cast doubt on the fast-food giant’s ad, people were really left scratching their heads as to why BK would pull the trigger on this campaign.
Can’t say I love the video but we participated for the US part of the research. My brilliant grad student @HonanMallory worked hard on it. Our Mexican colleagues found 33% reduction but not in our study. Turns our Fresno sourced lemongrass was not quite the same as Mexican https://t.co/3rpLPakVd3
— Ermias Kebreab (@ErmiasKebreab) July 14, 2020
Overall, while reducing emissions is a great thing (of course!), the fact that the video ad (which was later edited and reposted here after already generating over 4 million views) makes current agricultural practices sound sinister is what has agitated many in the ag community:
@BurgerKing has officially made the WORST restaurant anti-science, anti-farmer marketing I’ve seen in a while. The new Chipotle? 😡
Its rare I get this fired up but they deserve extreme pushback on this.
— Farm Babe (@thefarmbabe) July 14, 2020
The effects of methane released into the atmosphere from natural sources like cows are canceled out entirely by water vapor.
Strike Burger King off the menu.
We will no longer tolerate lies for political reasons
— Eli the Pit Bull (@realPitBullDog) July 14, 2020
Agriculture relating to farming and animals makes up for only 9% of global emissions. The energy sector makes up for 2/3 of total carbon emissions, what are you doing to supply clean energy for your restaurants? Source:https://t.co/kQ8MuphwKa ALSO cattle aren’t only used for food pic.twitter.com/a1aE5mmGm3
— Cowsquirrel (@EmmalyElizabeth) July 14, 2020
And then there was this reaction to one of Burger King’s followup tweets:
— Roxi Horror 💀🌸 (@roxiqt) July 14, 2020
Agriculture’s contribution to total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions is about 10 percent (globally, it’s 4 percent) — and even that doesn’t show how negligible ag’s impact is compared with the bigger picture. (Note that greenhouse gas mostly implies carbon dioxide, but also methane, nitrous oxides, and some refrigerants.) And beef producers in the U.S. already have one of the lowest carbon footprints compared to many of their worldwide counterparts.
As far as improving one’s climate footprint, Burger King’s efforts aren’t going to make as big of an impact as they’re claiming (it’s all style and no substance), and the resources the company is putting into this ad campaign could be far better spent elsewhere improving the environment. Farmers and ranchers are already working hard year over year making their impact smaller, their production greater, and their efficiency better.
Of course, the solution that many in ag are offering up is to simply never eat at Burger King again.