Op-Ed: Vegetarian McDonald’s? It’s an Oxymoron

Are you a vegetarian? Would you ever in good conscience eat at McDonald’s?

Vegetarian McDonalds? It is doubtful the Golden Arches will ever be a destination for vegetarians. (Photo: ScrapeTV.com)

Sep 27, 2012· 2 MIN READ

Earlier this month, McDonald's Corp. announced its intent to open a number of vegetarian-only franchises in India. The company's CEO, Jim Skinner, described the move as an "opportunity" to tap into the country's 500-million person vegetarian market, explaining that more than 40 percent of Indian people adhere to a strict vegetarian diet for ethical and/or religious reasons.

Not surprisingly, nowhere in McDonalds’ annual statement does the company discern between money earned from meat products and money earned from so-called vegetarian products.

But despite the company's best front, until there is such a thing as "vegetarian money," there will never be a "vegetarian McDonald's."

The company earns north of $8 billion per year from the slaughter and sale of food animals. Around 500,000 pounds of beef is processed per plant, per day, requiring the company to slaughter in excess of one million cows annually—and that's just to meet consumer demands in the United States.

MORE: Does a Low-Cal Menu Make Any Sense for McDonald's?

Around the world, approximately 68 million people frequent McDonald's franchises each day. In particular, vegetarians at McDonald's can choose from "accidentally veg-friendly" items like salads and wraps, or pasta, rice and fruit. Notably absent from this list are McDonald's' famous french fries, which are inherently not vegetarian sice they're cooked in palm oil and contain beef extract for taste.

Each year in October, McDonald's releases its annual report, listing its pooled operating income somewhere in the $6-to-8-billion bracket. According to annual reports, McDonald's' Big Mac is the primary moneymaker, selling in excess of $550 million per year in the United States alone. Not surprisingly, nowhere in McDonald's' annual statement does the company discern between money earned from meat products and money earned from so-called vegetarian products. To McDonald's, a profit is a profit; and to profit-hungry McDonald's, a vegetarian is a carnivore.

Animal rights organizations, including PETA and Animals Australia, have determined that McDonald's is one of the world's biggest facilitators of factory farming, a controversial agribusiness practice in which farm animals are raised in mass confinement. According to its business definition, factory farming (or confinement in high-stocking density) is part of a "systematic effort to produce the highest output [of animals] at the lowest cost."

This is the method by which McDonald's usually farms its chickens, cattle, and pigs. At factory farms, animals live in dark confinement and survive on modified food product, usually comprised of cheaply harvested soy and fishmeal. Broiler and layer chickens, confined in groups and in small cages, have their beaks and toes cut or seared to avoid self-mutilation during their confinement. This is also present in factory-confined piglets, whose teeth and tails are docked without anesthetic. Older pigs, predominantly female, are confined to gestation crates so narrow they are unable to stand or turn around. Meat cattle, including cows and sheep, are cramped in feedlots and subject to brutal live export whilst their young, referred to as "veal calves," are slaughtered in their first weeks of life, unable to sit or move for purposes of keeping veal meat tender for consumption.

In 2005, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) launched an intensive McCruelty campaign, its second campaign against McDonald's in six years after the company ignored pleas for an improvement to animal welfare standards

To date, McDonald's has not announced plans to use free-range hens or cage-free eggs in their India franchises.

Not only are McDonald's' methods of agriculture deemed abhorrently cruel, but they're also unsustainable.

Much of the soy-based animal feed used to fatten up McDonald's' battery hens is cultivated in the Amazon rainforests' fast-depleting acreages. This type of land clearing leaves tigers, elephants, orangutans and other animals displaced and vulnerable to extinction.

All potato products sold at McDonald's, including breakfast hash browns and popular McFries, are cooked in palm oil, a controversial ingredient often harvested by the clearing of orangutan and tiger habitat. In 2011, after public appeal, McDonald's announced plans to move to more sustainably cultivated palm oil by 2015, but refused to sever ties with its supplier, Cargill, a company infamous for its bold violations of environmental-protection orders.

To date, McDonald's has not announced plans to use rainforest-friendly packaging and cooking ingredients in their immediate stages in India.

Do you think McDonald's is vegetarian-friendly? Tell us in the comments below.

These are solely the author's opinions and do not represent those of TakePart, LLC or its affiliates.