Burger King recently got itself into hot water with farmers and ranchers. Trying to appeal to its customers’ concerns about the environment, the fast food giant produced a commercial about its …
Burger King recently got itself into hot water with farmers and ranchers. Trying to appeal to its customers’ concerns about the environment, the fast food giant produced a commercial about its efforts to reduce methane emissions from cattle.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with a company promoting its commitment to the environment, but Burger King’s ad followed an all too familiar pattern of treating farmers and ranchers as destroyers of the environment. The commercial features kids singing in gas masks as they stand on melting icebergs. Along with this exaggerated picture of the impacts of ranching, the ad presents unpublished, inconclusive science on lemongrass diets as a key to solving the cow emissions problem. There were a number of other inaccuracies in the ad.
In response to Burger King’s commercial, there was a justified and widespread backlash from the agricultural community. A group of ranchers in Goshen County organized a protest outside a Burger King franchise location, and thousands of people nationwide vowed to boycott the restaurant chain. We hope more people find ways to stand up to the deluge of misinformation online and in the media about modern farming practices.
Much of this country is scarily ignorant about where our food is coming from. There’s a trend now of people wanting to know more about it, but when they search for information, they are hit with unscientific sources that leave the impression that people whose livelihoods depend on the land recklessly destroy it.
Reducing emissions is an important goal, but according to the EPA, livestock industries account for only about 2.5% of total greenhouse gas emissions. And in some sectors, the industry has reduced emissions by 40% from what they were 70 years ago. Pushing to do more with less, farmers and ranchers also use up less land and other resources than they once did. Agriculture has never been so good to the environment.
The Burger King commercial was not the first time companies have used exaggerations to sell their commitment to health and the environment while painting modern agriculture as unsustainable. Stonyfield Organics released a commercial in 2018 — also featuring children — that portrayed tomatoes as modified with fish genes, referring to these genetically modified organisms as “monstrous.” Chipotle, a Mexican food chain, has been spreading fears of genetically modified foods for years.
In fact, there are no genetically modified tomatoes currently available on the commercial market, much less any that use fish genes, and referring to the mixing of animal and plant DNA as “monstrous” spreads unreasonable fears. More than half of the human DNA is shared with bananas.
Genetically modified crops have a number of benefits, including the need for less herbicide and pesticide use, and there’s an overwhelming scientific consensus eating them produces no negative health effects.
Michelle Miller, an agricultural advocate with a large social media presence, wrote a critical article on the Burger King ad in Ag Daily, which helped stir up protests and boycotts. The company reached out to Miller, and she met with Burger King Chief Marketing Officer Fernando Machado, who Miller said showed a sincere interest in listening to the ranchers’ concerns. The company has since released an apology for how it portrayed farmers and ranchers, and is making modifications to the ad.
Burger King’s willingness to engage the people who feel their reputation was harmed by its advertising is a step in the right direction. This has not been the case with other companies. When farmers, including Miller, tried to have a dialogue with Stonyfield, the company released a statement doubling down on its message and blocked many who criticized it on their social media accounts. Miller says Chipotle has blocked her from its social media accounts for highlighting the benefits of genetically modified foods in response to its ads. Why would food companies be so adversarial with the people who produce food?
When misinformation about agriculture spreads unchecked, it can have a detrimental effect on the agricultural industry. Bad public perception leads to bad policies and bad consumer choices. Farmers and ranchers have a hard enough job without people thinking they don’t care about the environment.