Opinion: McDonald’s is bullish on British beef but coy about chicken

A new campaign to show the fast food chain’s commitment to UK and Irish ingredients raises concerns about its policy on poultry, says David Burrows.

 McDonald’s UK & Ireland has launched a new map showing customers where its UK ingredients are sourced from. It offers a glimpse into the lives of some of its 23,000 British and Irish farmers supplying products like beef, pork and eggs. The tool “gives our customers the chance to meet some of our farmers and find out just how local some of our quality ingredients are”, said the chain’s head of sustainable and ethical sourcing Nina Prichard.

It all sounds great. But doesn’t the UK’s largest fast food chain sell chicken too? “The map shows ingredients that McDonald’s sources from the UK & Ireland, so not all ingredients are included,” a spokesman told Footprint.

So where does McDonald’s chicken come from, and why isn’t it transparent about this? The spokesman did not respond.

McDonald’s was one of a number of foodservice and hospitality businesses that also declined to respond to a recent Footprint survey on their buying practices for beef, lamb, pork and chicken. KFC and Nando’s were two of the 11 foodservice companies that provided data. The former did so despite almost half (46.1%) of its chicken coming from Europe, Brazil and Thailand (Nando’s uses 100% British and Irish chicken).

Campaigners responding to Footprint’s survey said the reliance on chicken (and pork) from overseas markets “rings alarm bells”. “The UK is far from perfect but long sourcing chains can only lead to concerns about safety, standards and provenance,” said Vicki Hird, head of sustainable farming at Sustain.

With a lack of labelling on foodservice meat, consumers also want transparency. In a YouGov poll of more than 2,000 British adults, published alongside the map, 41% said their appreciation for locally sourced food has increased since lockdown. Eggs (61%), milk (58%), beef (56%) and potatoes (56%) are the ingredients Brits most want restaurants to source from local suppliers. But chicken – a meat that is under intense scrutiny on a number of fronts, including animal welfare, feed (the industry’s reliance on soya) and greenhouse gas emissions – seemingly didn’t register (a percentage wasn’t listed).

McDonald’s staple ingredient is of course beef (100% British and Irish), so it won’t sell as much chicken as the likes of KFC or Nando’s. But the volumes could well be higher than for pork (all of which is RSPCA-assured outdoor-bred).

Indeed, the current (reduced menu) lists 14 products with chicken and 11 with pork (six of which are on the breakfast menu). Meanwhile, reports last year suggested that in the UK McDonald’s “enjoyed another strong quarter of growth” with new products including a bacon roll and hot chicken wrap. The revamp of its salad range – including chicken options – was also proving “extremely popular”, with sales up 55% year-on-year, The Grocer reported.

Transparency is key – and those 11 companies that shared their data with Footprint were rightly applauded by campaigners. McDonald’s meanwhile has now told us all about its sourcing of beef and pork, meat that is 100% British and Irish, but that’s half the story. Prichard talks of the “challenging year” for farmers and the need to “shine a light” on the incredible work they do. So perhaps she can enlighten us all on where the meat in a McChicken sandwich comes from too?

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