That was fast. Only a week in and Burger King has already promised to alter a wacky marketing campaign it started to promote an unproven hypothesis to address an issue that it wildly overstates. Confused? I don’t blame you.
The campaign was for Burger King’s “Reduced Methane Emissions Beef Whopper” that the fast food giant is rolling out in a few test markets. I’m guessing they wanted to appear ‘sustainable’ in order to sell more burgers – science be damned. The big burger chain claims that consumers can enjoy the burger with less guilt because lemongrass was added to the animals’ rations. The added ingredient, it claims, trims a cow’s daily methane emissions by 33%.
Burger King even wrote a song, crooned by a teenage yodeler in a white cowboy hat, to promote the new burger. The yodeler’s song, and the visuals, are mostly about how methane comes from cow farts and hurts the planet.
Any animal scientist will tell you that any methane emitted by a cow (and there’s far, far less than the commercial claims) comes from cow burps, not farts. But it appears that Burger King went with the back end of the cow because fart jokes are always good for an easy laugh.
But then the company appears to have had second thoughts about the whole commercial after it was grilled over the charcoals by farmers, cattle groups and scientists.
Frank Mitloehner of the University of California-Davis, a leading air quality specialist, said he was contacted by Burger King officials after he wrote a blog on how the company was misleading consumers about methane. The company, he said in an interview, decided to take out the ad’s misleading content.
“They took content out that was demeaning to farmers….and they pulled the content from all TV stations. So, to me, that is very positive and it is indicative that they ‘get it’ – that the mistake was made and that it needs to be corrected,” Mitloehner said.
The company also asked Mitloehner to work with them, moving forward to get the science straight in their advertising campaigns.
There’s a lot to fix about that commercial. First, there’s no real scientific evidence that lemongrass reduces methane emissions from a cow. It might help a cow’s breath, but studies haven’t come up with any evidence that adding lemongrass to cow feed reduces methane emissions.
The bigger issue with Burger King’s campaign is that it grossly overstates methane emissions from cattle production. The company, citing an outdated Food and Agriculture Organization report which says that 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to cattle production. But, the real number, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, is closer to 2% and has dropped sharply over the years, according to John Newton, an economist with the American Farm Bureau Federation.
By comparison, Mitloehner says, 80% of the greenhouse gasses released to the environment comes from the production and use of fossil fuels.
Something else to keep in mind is that methane decays in 10 years. Carbon dioxide lasts in the air for hundreds of years. So, once a cattle farm has been around for 10 years (and many have been around for generations), there are no new increases in methane emissions.
Methane emissions from cattle production are actually declining because of continued gains in efficiency and efforts of cattle raisers to reduce their environmental footprint. Caring for animals the right way really does make a difference to the environment.
The bottom line is that consumers can ditch the guilt, along with Burger King’s kitschy fart-joke commercial, and still enjoy tasty and nutritious real meat raised by farmers who care for their animals and the environment. Real farmers, real food, real meat. Yodeled or not, it’s the real deal.
By Dirck Steimel. Dirck Iowa Farm Bureau’s News Service manager and editor of the Iowa Farm Bureau Spokesman.