McDonald’s New Transparency Campaign Clouded with Controversy


McDonald’s has announced the launch of a new campaign “Our Food, Your Questions” in an effort to increase transparency and trust with its customers.

As the fast food industry, and McDonald’s sales in particular, are up against a growing interest in healthier fare, the company is releasing behind-the-scenes video clips and infographics about the production of its menu items like the McRib and McNuggets.

“Showing the public how the sausage is made may win favor with some consumers, but a better strategy for the fast food giant would be to make truly meaningful commitments to sustainability,” Naomi Starkman of Civil Eats wrote in Time.

Former “MythBusters” co-host Grant Imahara is featured in several videos busting McDonald’s “myths,” while taking the millions of customers behind the scenes for the first time in the chain’s history.

The chain is answering questions about hormones in meat (yes the company uses them because it’s “standard practice”), GMOs in the supply chain (which are likely in the animal feed because 90 percent of corn and soy in the U.S. are GMO) and “pink slime”, (which the company says it no longer uses). Issues like battery cages for egg-laying hens have yet to be addressed, and “because the company’s supply chain is so long, and it sources raw ingredients from such a wide array of locations and facilities, it would be impossible for any one tour, vignette, or infographic to show more than a sliver of what goes on at the farm, factory, and processing levels,” explains Starkman.

Putting a glossy marketing spin on select images of farming and production are earning the McDonald’s campaign a lot of criticism, and “while it’s angling for the farm-to-table crowd, as the world’s largest buyer of beef and pork with hamburgers for as low as one dollar, McDonald’s current practices will probably still be considered factory-farm-to-table,” Starkman notes.

The campaign hints at tactics used by Chipotle, the Mexican-inspired fast casual chain that was the first to announce all of the GMOs in its products (which it has since removed), as well as brandish its commitments to sourcing local produce, nitrite-free meats and grass-fed dairy products. But Chipotle also operates a tiny fraction of locations compared to McDonald’s, and while it’s still fast food, it’s notably healthier fare than McDonald’s menu items. “Most people simply don’t think of McDonald’s as a healthy place to eat, despite its efforts to offer more menu choices,” says Starkman. Add to that its “insidious marketing of fast foods to kids” and the recent protests and walk-outs over wages “hasn’t won it any points either.”

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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Image: Matt