Written by: Sarah Novak | July 29, 2020
I am sure you saw the headlines a few weeks ago about Burger King’s new advertising campaign and how the fast food retailer plans to reduce greenhouse gases by including lemongrass in cattle diets. Well, surprise, surprise! Their description of cows emitting gas (aka farts) is just plain wrong and the research they used on the feed ingredient is inconclusive.
Dr. Frank Mitloehner, professor and air quality extension specialist out of UC-Davis, said it best on Twitter (@GHGGuru):
“IT'S. NOT. THE. COW. FARTS. Nearly all enteric methane from cattle is from belching. Suggesting otherwise turns this serious climate topic into a joke. Reducing methane is a HUGE opportunity. That should be a goal. But we shouldn't trivialize it for trendy marketing. #COWSMENU”
The overall way Burger King portrayed farmers and ranchers as needing gas masks to work around cows in the campaign was also insulting. If you missed Farm Babe’s (a self-described big city globetrotter turned Iowa farm girl) Facebook post, she captured it well:
“Whopper of Mistake - Burger King and their RIDICULOUS new anti-science and anti-farmer Twitter ad. Apparently farmers are a bunch of hicks and we all need gas masks to breathe now?? When will these companies learn that putting down farmers and spreading misinformation is NOT the way to go about building trust and relationships with your farmers and customers?”
So, Burger King got the science wrong and insulted farmers and ranchers across the country all at the same time. Sounds familiar, right?
But what was different this time?
This time, agriculture had a voice in the conversation from almost the moment the ads hit Twitter. We were ready and willing to speak up, activated influencers and got the attention of the company. Burger King’s executives reached out to both Farm Babe and Dr. Mitloehner and ultimately decided to modify and pull the ads. A huge first step!
From what I’ve read on social media, Burger King’s chief marketing officer will be visiting the Farm Babe’s farm and the company’s research team plans to engage further with Dr. Mitloehner and the Clarity and Leadership for Environmental Awareness and Research (CLEAR) Center. A great second step!
While all this was going on, the American Feed Industry Association also worked on the issue, a bit more behind the scenes. Remember how this all started – Burger King has a “feed ingredient” that “reduces greenhouse gas emissions” from cattle. As we know, those types of “claims” (to use the technical term, structure-function claims) are not allowed in marketing unless the ingredient has gone through the Food and Drug Administration’s rigorous drug approval process. Changing this process has been a long-time priority for the AFIA.
So, we pondered: what if we had Burger King on our side to help get this done?
I think we can all agree, doing more with less and looking for innovative solutions to help climate change is what is needed today. Maybe together, with partners like Burger King, we could get this done. This truly would be a fantastic third (and maybe final) step!