Report by Marisa Bellantonio, Glenn Hurowitz, Anne Leifsdatter Grønlund and Anahita Yousefi, RFN and Mighty Earth
Burger King, the world's second largest burger chain, sells 11 million Whoppers, Crispy Chickens Jr., Bacon Kings and other sandwiches every day. But what is the environmental impact of producing all of this meat? Burger King provides almost no information on how its meat is produced, or whether the food that goes into its meals is produced in an environmentally and socially responsible manner.
To be sure, Burger King isn’t the only company whose lack of policies and practices are driving large-scale environmental problems. Both the fast food industry and other meat sellers, like supermarkets, get their raw materials from many of the same questionable sources as Burger King. But given its size and scale, extensive connections to other major food companies, and seeming unwillingness to even start to address the challenge, it provides a fitting vehicle to tell the story of the global meat industry.
As this report shows, Burger King has a lot to hide: The fast food giant has failed to adopt any serious policies to protect native ecosystems in the production of its food. Despite pressure from consumers, it continues to rank dead last among its competitors, like McDonald’s, when it comes to protecting the environment. Companies found in Burger King’s supply chain have been linked to ongoing destruction of forests and native prairies – habitat for wildlife like sloths, jaguars, giant anteaters and other species.
Unlike many of its competitors, Burger King has repeatedly turned down requests from civil society organizations to commit to only buying from suppliers who don't engage in destruction of forests, or to provide information about where its commodities originate. McDonald's has even shown leadership by committing to eliminate deforestation from its supply chains, and urging its suppliers to do the same.
Burger King scored a zero on the Union of Concerned Scientists’ 2016 scorecard of major beef sellers’ deforestation profiles, significantly lagging behind other major players like Wal-Mart, McDonald’s and Wendy’s.
The Impact of Global Meat Supply Chains
To examine the impact of Burger King’s operations, we focused on the ultimate source of much of their meat: the soybeans that feed the livestock that the company uses to make its meals. Soy is an important base ingredient of the world’s meat. Approximately three quarters of the world’s soy goes to animal feed.
This soy production has left an enormous scar on the Earth’s surface. More than one million square kilometers of our planet - equivalent to the total combined area of France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands - are dedicated to growing soy.
In South America, soy and cattle interests have converted vast areas of the Amazon rainforest, Brazil’s Cerrado, the Argentine Chaco, Bolivian lowland forests and the Atlantic Forest in Paraguay from diverse native ecosystems into soy monocultures. From 2001-2010, an average of approximately four million hectares of forests were destroyed each year, mostly for soy and cattle.
This report focuses on the impacts of agribusiness on South America's extraordinary ecosystems and biodiversity. Later in 2017, Mighty will release a report that examines the practices of some of these same companies on the environment of the American Midwest.
Uncovering a Trail of Destruction
For this investigation, we visited 28 sites across 3000 kilometers in Brazil and Bolivia, where soy production on an industrial scale is fueling massive deforestation (for details, satellite imagery, and links to additional photos and videos from each site, see our background report). To overcome Burger King’s lack of transparency, we used satellite mapping, supply chain analysis tools, interviews with soy growers and an extensive field investigation to uncover deforestation linked to agribusiness giants in the company’s supply chain.
Across the South American frontier, we found the footprint of the major trading companies that sit astride global agriculture and supply Burger King and other food companies. Traders like the American companies Cargill, Bunge, and ADM buy grain, build silos and roads, provide farmers with fertilizer, and even finance land-clearing operations.
This report (extract) was published on Mighty Earth's website in March 2017.