McDonald’s Announces New Meatless “McPlant” Burger

Graphic: Annabel Driussi for Our Daily Planet

By Amy Lupica, ODP Contributing Writer

This week, McDonald’s announced that it was launching the McPlant burger, a completely vegan burger created by the fast-food chain and Beyond Meat. The release is a part of the company’s effort to reduce its carbon footprint, 29% of which can be attributed to the sourcing of beef. The brand is the latest major fast-food retailer to adopt plant-based “meat” products; Both Burger King and Dunkin’ Donuts have introduced similar products recently.

Why This Matters: Food production accounts for about 30% of global emissions. Beef is the most climate-damaging food on the planet, producing carbon emissions at every step of the supply chain. Cattle require large swaths of land for grazing, large amounts of grain to feed, and produce an amount of methane comparable to the entire U.S. natural gas industry.  Experts and advocates agree that corporations must play a role in reducing meat consumption globally. As Michael Clark, a researcher at the Nuffield Department of Population Health at the University of Oxford, said, “Every person has a role to play, every corporation as well. Through collective action and political will, we can actually do this pretty rapidly.”

A Competitive Market

Environmentalists and advocates see the McDonald’s announcement as a big win. “This represents a significant milestone,” says Zach Weston, foodservice and supply chain manager at the Good Food Institute, “McDonald’s brand is iconic and global, and the scale at which they operate is unsurpassed,” Weston says it’s unsurprising that the company would take this step. More and more major brands have taken the leap in the past few years; most notably, Burger King released the Impossible Whopper, a collaboration with Impossible Foods, in August of 2019.

Is It Enough?

Experts say that a large-scale shift away from meat consumption could help prevent global average temperatures from reaching 2.0 degrees Celsius by 2050, but, despite its demanding and polluting supply chain, a U.N. report predicts that meat consumption will rise by 76%. A 2018 study found that Americans must consume 90% less beef to limit global warming within set targets. While the new product is sourced via a newer, more sustainable supply chain, McDonald’s beef supply chain continues to dominate its business model. McDonald’s, a burger based business, continues to be one of the world’s largest buyers of beef. Additionally, McDonald’s hasn’t served up any concrete plans for how they intend to reduce the impact of their beef supply chain.

Weston and others believe that changing climate and consumer demand gives enough reason to hope that cheap beef may not be the centerpiece of the McDonald’s menu in the future. McDonald’s intends to expand the McPlant line of products and increase the proportion of chicken products on the menu. “It’s not really a surprise that every major restaurant chain is thinking about this,” said Weston. “It’s something that their consumers are asking about, and their competitors are doing. And so they really have to do it.”

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