Ranchers find Burger King ad hard to stomach

Cattle producers say science behind initiative full of bull
Published: Jul. 20, 2020 at 1:04 PM CDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KOTA) - Local agricultural leaders are finding a multinational burger chain’s initiative to combat a core contributor to global warming - cow farts - difficult to digest.

Burger King appealed to beef consumers and producers alike with their “Cow’s Menu” ad campaign, an initiative to reduce CH₄ (methane) released from cows passing greenhouse gases.

However, ranchers reacted negatively across social media, saying they’ve got the issue all backward.

"Walmart yodeler" Mason Ramsey walks through a cartoonish pasture while flanked by farting...
"Walmart yodeler" Mason Ramsey walks through a cartoonish pasture while flanked by farting dairy cows. Ag industry leaders criticized Burger King over inaccurate depictions of basic bovine biology in their latest "Cow's Menu" campaign, which aims to reduce methane emissions from livestock.(YouTube: Burger King)

B.K.‘s commercial depicts “Walmart yodel boy” Mason Ramsey exiting a bovine’s behind, walking into a cartoonish, pastel pasture and singing about the harmful effects of methane emissions from cattle. Meanwhile, cows can be seen releasing fart clouds as burps billow into the atmosphere.

The worldwide burger joint’s campaign is centered around beefing up cattle with lemongrass, a type of plant that can be grown in a variety of climates, including South Dakota. According to the campaign, supplementing lemongrass to a cow’s diet can reduce the amount of methane released from burps, belches and flatulence.

B.K.‘s campaign referenced two separate studies from the University of California-Davis and the Autonomous University of Mexico that measured the effects of various lemongrass on CH₄.

However, Ermias Kebreab, one of the key researchers on the UC-D paper, expressed his disappointment in the commercial on Twitter: “can’t say I love the video.”

“Our Mexican colleagues found a 33% reduction but not in our study. Turns our Fresno sourced lemongrass was not quite the same as Mexican,” Kebreab added.

KOTA-TV reached out to Dr. Kebreab for comments on the extent of his cooperation with Burger King and for clarification on the results of the two studies.

While Kebreab did not state his involvement with the campaign, he did point out the AUM research found 44% and 26% reduction in methane emissions across two experiments. He went on to add that “the paper is in the second review.”

Still, ranchers in the Black Hills and beyond are calling the UC-D study inconclusive, the AUM experiments incomplete and Burger King’s Earth-friendly initiative a lot of bull.

For regional ag leaders, like Eric Jennings, president of S.D. Cattlemen’s Association, and S.D. Beef Industry Council Executive Director Suzanne Geppert, part of their disappointment lies in the focus of B.K’s campaign.

They claim methane is a small contributor to global warming when compared to carbon dioxide, which makes up 81% of all greenhouse gases, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Jennings says cattle make up an even smaller slice of the pie: “the emission that a cow produces is very insignificant. It’s between two and three percent of the total that’s produced in the world ... and not only that, but methane will cycle through. So, in 10 years, it will have dissipated and turned into another compound.”

The EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator shows that one pound of methane is equivalent to 25 pounds of carbon dioxide, and while CH₄ sticks around in the atmosphere for a shorter time, the compound is better at capturing radiation than carbon dioxide.

Between skewed science and the squall of a cowboy-clad Internet star singing about methane of all things, Geppert is most bothered by what she saw as Burger King butchering the basic biology of the beef animal.

“Your methane actually comes through the burps. About 85-90% of the methane coming from the beef animal comes from the burps themselves because they’re a ruminant animal,” Geppert said. “As far as passing the gas and ‘that’s where all that methane comes from,’ they’re inaccurate.”

Jennings is particularly rustled by the 66-year-old restaurant chain’s depiction of the average livestock producer as a flatulent fool in their commercial.

A handlebar mustachioed man tells the viewer "if my cow ain't fartin', it must be me" in Burger...
A handlebar mustachioed man tells the viewer "if my cow ain't fartin', it must be me" in Burger King's ad campaign to reduce methane emissions in cattle. Ag leaders found the commercial insensitive and said it portrayed an inaccurate stereotype of ranchers.(YouTube: Burger King)

Near the end of the two-minute video, a rural, flannel-clad man sporting a handlebar mustache and a cow companion can be seen riding inside a crowded elevator. He addresses the camera, saying “if my cow ain’t fartin', it must be me,” while sounds of digestion and coughing passengers play in the background.

Jennings also says this smears the livestock industry as unprofessional and bumbling, as opposed to consummate professionals and conscientious environmentalists.

“The commercial itself - it felt like it was kind of insulting that it was promoting a stereotype that people have about agriculture that really isn’t very accurate.”

The original “Burger King | Cows Menu” has since been unlisted from YouTube, and the latest version has been edited to omit the rancher character.

“I think they should probably stick to flipping hamburgers and leave the cattle raising to the people who know what they’re doing,” Jennings finished.

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