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Is McDonald's the World's Largest Purchaser of Cow Eyeballs?

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Is McDonald's the world's largest purchaser of cow eyeballs?

McDonald's Restaurant

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Dear Urban Legends:

Have you heard about one where McDonald's is allegedly the largest purchaser of cow eyeballs in the world? According to the rumor I've heard, "100% all beef" includes eyeballs. Can you please investigate this and refute or confirm it?

Dear Reader:

Let's face it, while most of us do eat fast food of one sort or another for the sake of convenience, we don't really trust it. We don't trust it because it's cheap, it's mass-produced, and it's sold to us by vast, impersonal corporations that don't necessarily have our best interests at heart.

But we still eat it, suffering queasy afterthoughts as a kind of penance. Sharing fast food horror stories — of which "Icky Hamburger Additives" makes up a major subgenre — is one way we express our collective misgivings about our eating habits in the 21st Century.

The alleged adulterant before us is cow eyeballs, but over the years horse meat, kangaroo meat, camel meat, and even earthworms have been rumored secret substitutes for beef in McDonald's hamburgers. Small wonder the company now goes to the trouble of labeling all of its beef-related products thus:

"Contains 100% pure USDA inspected beef; no additives, no fillers, no extenders."

Note: that's 100% pure beef, not 100% of the beef.

Which would seem to rule out eyeballs. Indeed, under USDA rules the inclusion of any "beef byproducts," let alone scrap parts, must be labeled accordingly.

Cost would seem to rule them out as well. Contrary to popular assumption, bovine eyeballs can fetch a higher price on the open market than the choicest cuts of beef. That's because they're in demand at research facilities and college biology labs for experimental purposes. At one online biological supply house I checked (yes, you can buy cow eyeballs over the Internet!), the going rate, in bulk, was over $2 apiece. Similarly, earthworms — another alleged low-cost substitute for beef in fast food burgers — are way more expensive than beef itself.

If, in fact, McDonald's were the world's largest purchaser of cow eyeballs, we could only surmise that the burger chain is engaged in some sort of very expensive, super-secret scientific research — a horror story unto itself.

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