TORONTO, ON—National animal law organization Animal Justice has filed a complaint with Ad Standards Canada—the ad industry self-regulatory body—over McDonald’s ads that contain misleading statements about the environmental footprint of the company’s “Quarter Pounder” burger.
The advertisement, which appears on billboards and in transit stations across Toronto, claims that the McDonald’s Quarter Pounder burger is “[n]ow sustainably sourced.” In the ad’s fine print, the company concedes that only 30% or more of the beef used in the Quarter Pounder is from “certified sustainable sources”.
When Animal Justice heard from concerned Torontonians who were appalled by these misleading ads, the organization filed a complaint with Ad Standards asking that the advertisements be taken down. Animal Justice believes the ad runs afoul of the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards, which prohibits ads that contain misleading claims.
“Beef is one of the most environmentally-damaging foods on the planet. Is the Quarter Pounder now less unsustainable than it used to be? Maybe. But that does not justify making a sweeping and misleading claim that this burger is now ‘sustainably sourced’”, said Kaitlyn Mitchell, a staff lawyer with Animal Justice. “We hope that the truth will prevail and that Ad Standards will remove these ads so that consumers are not left with the false impression that when they buy a Quarter Pounder from McDonald’s they are choosing an environmentally friendly or sustainable meal. To the contrary, farming cows for food is a major driver of human-caused climate change, as well as water pollution and biodiversity loss.
“The Competition Bureau and Canadian Standards Association advise against exaggerating the impact of modest environmental improvements on a product’s overall sustainability. Rather than attempting to re-brand its Quarter Pounder as ‘sustainably sourced’, McDonald’s should focus on marketing its new plant-based McPlant burger and encouraging customers to consume fewer animal products to promote their own health, as well as the health of the planet.”
Making Quarter Pounders that contain only 30% or more of beef certified as “sustainable” does not justify advertising the burger as “sustainably sourced”. By McDonald’s own logic, a whopping 70% of a given burger could still be composed of “unsustainable” beef.
Canadians are increasingly looking for ethical and environmentally sustainable products, and are willing to reduce their meat and dairy consumption in order to do so. Misleading “greenwashing” prevents consumers from making informed purchasing choices and can have devastating environmental impacts.
According to scientific experts, animal agriculture produces approximately 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions—about the same percentage as the entire transportation sector. Some estimates put the number even higher. Beef and dairy production are responsible for the vast majority of these emissions. Per calorie, it takes approximately 160 times more land to produce beef products as compared to food such as potatoes, wheat, and rice. The average water footprint per calorie for beef is twenty times larger than for cereals and starchy roots.
The Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (“CRSB”) requirements that McDonald’s relies on have also been criticized as vague and unenforceable, leaving the door wide open for greenwashing.
To read the complaint, click here.
The McDonald’s ad can be downloaded here.
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