• How Does Fast Food Impact the Environment?

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How Does Fast Food Impact the Environment?

Feb 07 2019

The fast food industry could be having a catastrophically catalytic effect on global warming, according to a new report from Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return (FAIRR). Given its high dependence on natural resources such as water, land and feed for livestock, the animal agriculture involved in creating fast food products is a sizable contributor to environmental issues.

The study has prompted a consortium of more than 80 investors to demand that leading companies in the fast food industry take the initiative and commit to long-term targets to reduce their environmental impact. However, McDonald’s have hit back against the announcement, claiming they already do plenty to fulfil their environmental obligations.

Consumption and emission

The report from FAIRR identified three key ways in which the fast food industry is bad for the environment: its use of land, its consumption of water and its emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs). Meat and dairy farms are the biggest factor behind change in the way land is used globally, often prompting deforestation and diverting resources away from other valuable needs. Meanwhile, the industry is also estimated to use as much as 10% of global water flows.

However, it is perhaps in regard to the sector’s emissions that the greatest concerns lie. It is estimated that emissions from agriculture (including methane emissions from meat and dairy farming) will comprise 70% of the maximum allowable GHGs by 2050, if the world is to keep to its aim of limiting global warming to less than 2°C. As yet, animal agriculture has not come up with a concerted plan to tackle its GHG emissions, which has brought action from the investors.

A $570 billion industry

It’s thought that the fast food industry is worth a cumulative $570 billion each year. While that is an astronomical figure, it’s dwarfed by the $6.5 trillion thought to belong to the 80 investors who have issued the ultimatum. As well as targeting giants of the industry McDonald’s, the demand to tighten up environmental practices and increase transparency was also aimed at KFC, Burger King, Domino’s Pizza, Wendy’s, Pizza Hut and Chipotle Mexican Grill.

In an age where every centimetre of our water supply counts, the investors are calling on companies to use suppliers which adhere to stricter requirements with regards to their water consumption and GHG emissions. They have also asked that the companies publish tangible targets for their own carbon footprint and to regularly update the public on their progress towards these targets. They have demanded real action by next month at the latest.

Are McDonald’s already leading by example?

In response to the petition, a spokesperson for McDonald’s was quick to point out the firm’s ongoing dedication to the environment, embodied in their 2018 plan to curtail GHG emissions. “This includes reducing emissions intensity in our supply chain through engagement and collaboration with suppliers and farmers - which we expect will prevent 150 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from being released into the atmosphere by 2030,” said McDonald's in a statement.

“This is the equivalent of taking 32 million passenger cars off the road for an entire year or planting 3.8 billion trees and growing them for 10 years. The target will enable McDonald's to grow as a business without growing its emissions.”


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