For the second time in about a year, a hoax news release is circulating that accuses McDonalds USA of seeking to import foreign beef at the expense of the U.S. producer.
Distributed as an email and attributed to the Texas Cattle Feeders Association and Texas A&M animal scientist David W. Forrest, the story says the world's largest fast food chain claims there's not enough U.S. beef to supply all its needs so it is testing the use of South America beef. "The problem is," says the news release, "South Americans aren't under the same regulations as American beef producers."
According to the story, South American producers are still allowed to use hormones, pesticides and other chemicals long banned here and this gives them a competitive advantage over U.S. producers. The writer of the story calls for readers to boycott McDonalds as he has.
A spokesman for Texas A&M's David Forrest called the story "a hoax. He didnâ€™t write it. He knows nothing about it, but we're getting calls from all over on it."
Texas Cattle Feeders spokesman Burt Rutherford says he's not sure how the association's name got attached to the story, but that it shouldn't have been. "The information," says Rutherford, "is factually incorrect."
In 2002 McDonalds announced it would test use of imported product in about 400 of its 13,000 U.S. restaurants because there wasn't enough U.S. beef to fill its needs. About two years ago, McDonalds began testing Australian and New Zealand beef because its demand for beef has increased dramatically while the supply of lean beef from cull cows had decreased. The company cited shortages of domestic lean beef trimmings needed to make the proper lean/fat ratio, as well as increased competition in the increasingly impacted U.S. fast food marketplace, as the reason for the test.
Since the 1970s, the number of McDonalds restaurants in the U.S. has grown from 1,500 to 13,000, but the number of cull cows and other non-feedlot animals sent to market has declined from about 10 million to about five million. The testing began in the U.S. Southeast with patties made using Australian and New Zealand product.
John Hays, McDonalds senior director of U.S. beef procurement, says his company is the nation's biggest purchaser of U.S. beef, buying nearly 1 billion pounds each year. Hays says even if it tested imported product coast-to-coast, it would still buy as much U.S. beef as its two closest competitors combined.
At the time, the explanation did little to comfort U.S. producers. "Anytime you have a major company that's in the past used 100% American born and raised beef products say they're going to test-market this other beef, that's not good," says Nebraska Farmer's Union President John Hansen. "There's a legitimate frustration over this situation."
Addressing beef safety, Hays says McDonalds is using only meat from Australia and New Zealand, never South America, in its import testing. It uses USDA standards, its own standards and third-party testing to ensure safety, he says.
"If all of this were just about price, McDonalds would have joined its competitors years ago in buying foreign beef," Hays says. In recent months he told Nebraska producers that, by purchasing U.S. beef, McDonalds has invested $180 million over the last 15 years in the U.S. industry that would have otherwise gone to foreign suppliers. "The $180 million is what McDonalds would have saved had it bought imported beef," Hays says.
Hays says his company depends on and is committed to working with U.S. producers and will not attempt to raise the U.S. quota on beef imports from Australia and New Zealand or support anyone who wants it raised.
Texas Cattle Feeders agrees. "Even if McDonald's does import beef," says Rutherford, "it wouldn't necessarily affect the U.S. supply because Australia hasn't reached its quota very often. The U.S. seldom imports all the beef from Australia it can."