McDonald's Influence on the Food System

Confined cattle on a factory farm

With more than 33,000 restaurants around the world, McDonald’s is Big Ag’s number-one customer. No surprise, then: Big Ag falls over backwards to meet McDonald’s needs.

McDonald’s demand for high volumes of consistent ingredients created the conditions for the rise of ADM, Cargill, Bunge, Tyson and Monsanto as we know them today.  

Daily, McDonald's sells beef, chicken, potatoes and tomatoes to billions of customers. These staple foods are the building blocks of our meals…and how each is produced is dictated by what McDonald’s demands.

McDonald’s Has Unparalleled Influence

Because McDonald’s buys and sells food on such an immense scale, it has almost unrivaled clout in our food production.

Take potatoes for instance. McDonald’s single-handedly changed the way potatoes are grown, processed and eaten in the United States. Here's the story:

When McDonald’s began, it was buying potatoes from 175 local farms. But for founder Ray Kroc, this was much too inefficient. He wanted to monopolize the supply, so he chose one supplier: JR Simplot.

Simplot built enormous potato farms – based upon unsustainable farming practices, no less. But it worked for McDonald's. Simplot crushed the competition and is now one of the largest privately owned corporations in the world.

Traditionally, potatoes are “dryland” farmed – which means their size, shape and texture change with the seasonal weather. But for McDonald's, the length and size of the potato is a critical part of the marketing of its fries. A uniform-length fry requires a uniform potato, which requires irrigation. Today, Simplot will contract only with potato growers who irrigate their fields and deliver potatoes with a uniform length, appearance and color.

Because of the enormous scope and influence of Simplot, chances are that the potato you buy from the grocery store or eat at a restaurant is the same potato that McDonald’s uses for its fries.

It All Comes Back to Marketing

Together, we can exert pressure on the burger giant by exposing the reality behind its brand. By challenging the corporation’s brand falsehoods, our campaign holds McDonald’s accountable for its role in in the public health crisis and in driving damaging practices up and down the supply chain.

And the impact of every small change can be enormous.

For instance, when McDonald’s attempted to “farmwash” its image by running a series of misleading ads implying its ingredients are delivered from "farm to fork," we and our allies exposed the reality in the media: McDonald’s food generally travels from huge, environmentally damaging fork.

Just a few weeks later the corporation announced it would put an end to a particularly inhumane factory farming practice by requiring its pork suppliers to stop using gestation crates. Suppliers across the country took notice, knowing the burger giant’s new requirement would radically alter the way they raised their pigs.

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