A recent Burger King advertisement has caused a stir for its claims about cows and methane, and its portrayal of farmers, but it’s ended with an outcome that’s a step in the right direction, according to many farmers and ranchers.

Burger King released a letter, dated July 21, announcing their new partnership in the Global Roundtable of Sustainable Beef, explaining the motives behind their recent ad, and apologizing to producers.

The letter explains that their decision to include lemongrass as the feed additive to help reduce enteric methane emissions was based on promising but, as of yet, unpublished research from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM). Burger King wants to expand their testing of the feed additive to Latin America and Europe and also extend the amount of time the cow is fed lemongrass, the company says.

RealAgriculture recently hosted Dr. Frank Mitloehner, professor and air quality specialist at University of California-Davis (UC-Davis), as a guest on a LIVE! segment, where he explained  the reasoning and science behind this initial research.

“There are several technologies that are being tested, lemongrass being one, one that’s not the promising one, I might add, and most scientists who work in this space would say lemongrass is probably one of the lesser effective in reducing methane,” says Mitloehner in the LIVE! broadcast.

The study from UNAM was replicated at the UC-Davis, where the enteric methane reduction results from lemongrass were not statistically significant, inferring that not all lemongrass species are created equal. Burger King will continue their research with UC-Davis and Dr. Mitloehner, the company has since said.

The letter continues with an apology to producers prompted by feedback from the producer community. “After receiving this feedback on our portrayal of farmers, we made adjustments to the initial video uploaded to YouTube (where the most online posts are linked from),” says Fernando Machado, global chief marketing officer for Restaurant Brands International, in the letter. “We apologize to anyone who felt offended by the content. Our intention was to celebrate farmers and portray them as the ones working to continuously improve the sustainability aspect of the work.”

Addressing a specific part of the advertisement, Machado says “Regarding the farts, we understand that cows have complex digestive systems and as they digest their feed they release significant quantities of methane mainly through burps and not ‘farts’.”

Adversaries of the livestock sector have a tendency to overstate the amount of methane emitted to suit their agenda. “The beef supply chain in the United States emits a total of 3.3 per cent of all greenhouse gases,” says Mitloehner, and “the 800-pound gorilla is clearly the sectors of society that use fossil fuels —oil, coal, and gas — and these are the transportation sector, power production and use, and the cement industry,” says Mitloehner. “These three combined emit 80 per cent of greenhouse gases,” he continued.

The enteric emissions of those greenhouse gases in beef production is a portion of that 3.3 per cent and under the best circumstances, Mitloehner thinks that emissions would be reduced by less than one per cent.

In addition to adjusting the online version, Burger King will also adjust the TV advertisement, to have a more serious tone and to portray emissions more related to eructation (the burps) rather than flatulence.

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