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McDonald's Importing Beef from South America?


An email call to boycott McDonald's restaurants on the grounds that the company plans to import beef from South America.

Description: Email rumor (see also: Canadian version)
Circulating since: May 2002
Status: Outdated / Misleading (see details below)

Email text contributed by A. Jones, May 30, 2002:

Guys -- We as cattle producers are very passionate about this. McDonald's claims that there is not enough beef in the USA to support their restaurants. Well we know that is not so. My opinion is they are looking to save money at our expense. The sad thing of it is that the people of the USA are the ones who made McDonalds successful in the first place, but we are not good enough to purchase beef from. We personally are no longer eating at McDonalds, which I am sure does not make an impact, but if we pass this around maybe there will be an impact felt.

This has John just fighting mad. Just to add a note, all Americans that sell cows at a livestock auction barn had to sign a paper stating that we do NOT EVER feed our cows any part of another cow. South Americans are not required to do this as of yet.

McDonalds has announced that they are going to start importing much of their beef from South America. The problem is that South Americans aren't under the same regulations as American beef producers and the regulations they have are loosely controlled.

They can spray numerous pesticides on their pastures that have been banned here at home because of residues found in the beef. They can also use various hormones and growth regulators that we can't. The American public needs to be aware of this problem and that they may be putting themselves at risk from now on by eating at good old McDonalds.

American ranchers raise the highest quality beef in the world and this is what Americans deserve to eat. Not beef from countries where quality is loosely controlled. Therefore I am proposing a boycott of McDonalds until they see the light. I'm sorry but everything is not always about the bottom line, and when it comes to jeopardizing my family's health that is where I draw the line.

I am sending this note to about thirty people. If each of you send it to at least ten more (30 x 10 = 300) ... and those 300 send it to at least ten more (300 x 10 = 3,000) ... and so on, by the time the message reaches the sixth generation of people, we will have reached over THREE MILLION consumers! If those three million get excited and pass this on to ten friends each, then 30 million people will have been contacted! If it goes one level further, you guessed it..... THREE HUNDRED MILLION PEOPLE!!!

Again, all you have to do is send this to 10 people. That's all.

I'll bet you didn't think you and I had that much potential, did you? Acting together we can make a difference. If this makes sense to you, please pass this message on.

Analysis: The grain of truth in this alarmist rant is the fact that McDonald's did announce in mid-2002 that it was preparing to test imported beef in a small percentage of its U.S. restaurants. The meat in question was to be imported from New Zealand and Australia, however, not South America.

McDonald's cited a short supply of lean beef as the reason for the experiment. The imported product would come from grass-fed herds, the company said, which tend to yield leaner meat than the mostly grain-fed cattle raised in the United States.

Even so, many U.S. cattle producers called for a boycott of McDonald's, sometimes citing the same health and safety concerns brought up in this chain letter. Their alarmism rang a bit disingenuous, however, given that Americans already consumed roughly 1.5 million tons of imported beef per year, much of it from Australia and New Zealand. In fact, as of 2002, the United States imports more beef than any other country in the world.

If non-U.S. beef per se really does constitute a serious health threat to American consumers, McDonald's tentative foray into the foreign market would seem to be the least of our worries.

Update: Canada variant - A new version circulating since February 2009 claims McDonald's is planning to use South American beef at its Canadian locations.

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Sources and further reading:

Imported Beef May Feature in U.S. McDonald's
Market News - Meat & Livestock Australia, 3 April 2002

U.S. Cattlemen Angry over Beef Imports by McDonald's
Voice of America News, 12 May 2002

Idaho Cattle Producers Irate w/McDonald's over Foreign Beef
Meat and Poultry Online News, 21 April 2002

World Beef Trade Overview
USDA fact sheet

Last updated: 02/26/09

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