Fast Food Beef: What Matters?

According to, McDonald’s is raising prices to reflect increases in the cost of beef:

McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD) Chief Financial Officer Pete Bensen said, “As commodity and other cost pressures become more pronounced as we move throughout the year, we will likely increase prices to offset some but not necessarily all of these cost increases….”

That’s bad for the restaurant chain’s customers’ wallets. But is it bad overall? Consider the alternatives. They could try to squeeze producers (in the way that Walmart is famous for, for example). Or they could use less beef. As an example of how that’s possible, note that Taco Bell is now facing a lawsuit over the relatively small amount of beef in its “beef:”

…it was found that Taco Bell’s “meat mixture”, which it dubs “seasoned beef” contained less than 35 % beef. If these figures are correct, the product would fail to meet minimum requirements, set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to be labeled as “beef”. The other 65% of the “meat” is made up of water, soy lecithin, maltodextrin, silicon dioxide, anti-dusting agent and modified corn starch….

It’s also worth noting that it’s not obvious which product (100% beef or Taco Bell’s weird mix) is healthier or greener. I have no idea. But anyone who thinks it’s bad, health-wise or environmentally, to eat a lot of beef, has to suspect that it’s at least not a terrible thing in principle for a beef filling to contain less than 100% beef.

About Chris MacDonald

I'm a philosopher who teaches at Ryerson University's Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, Canada. Most of my scholarly research is on business ethics and healthcare ethics.
This entry was posted in ethics, fast food, labeling, meat, prices, values. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Fast Food Beef: What Matters?

  1. Anastasia says:

    I personally think it is a good thing (in principle as you say) to have some non-beef mixed in the beef. I don’t have an analysis to refer to but I would be VERY surprised if the mix isn’t both better for the environment and better for waistlines. Even the most sustainable grass fed beef still has a greater environmental impact than wheat, corn, or soy even with pesticides and fertilizers.

    However, truth in advertising is pretty important. I doubt most people knew Taco Bell “seasoned beef” is only 35% beef. Then there’s the problem of them not following USDA regs to be able to call it beef. But a lawsuit? Really? Is this the best way to address this problem? Sometimes my fellow Americans can be very frustrating.

  2. Anastasia:

    Yes, that seems about right. IF we could set aside the honesty-in-advertising angle, then there would be a pretty good argument in favour of the additives. I suspect that the fact that Taco Bell doesn’t make the content of its “beef” clearer is that it thinks Americans will (irrationally?) object to anything less than 100% pure beef.


  3. Paulette says:

    The only legal issue with Taco Bell is that they state seasoned beef, which is an illegal nomenclature for a mixture containing beef at such a low percentage. A shrewd marketer would play up the lower meat content (I expect a significant portion of the mix is TVP (textured vegetable protein) and claim no change to the flavour or talk about reduced saturated fat, lower calories or some other perceived health benefit (supposing that the 25% reduction required is achieved). The marketing team missed an opportunity with this product to demonstrate what Taco Bell is doing to improve the health/ environmental profile of their products (while of course reducing the cost of the product and maintaining or increasing profitability which is the true motivator behind reformulations of this nature).

  4. Pingback: “Attacking a brand is like attacking a person” « The Business Ethics Blog

Comments are closed.