McDonald’s deserves a break today

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In the time it will take you to read this paper, more than 1 million people around the world will have eaten at McDonald’s.

That’s a lot of Big Macs, double cheeseburgers and Thome Triples (for those of you in the Cleveland marketing area). That’s also good news for U.S. beef producers because McDonald’s is the largest buyer of domestic beef, to the tune of more than 1 billion pounds per year, twice the amount of its closest competitor, Burger King.

The bad news is there’s an e-mail rumor circulating that promotes a boycott of McDonald’s because the fast food chain announced early this year that it is testing the use of imported beef from Australia and New Zealand in some of its U.S. restaurants.

Like all rumors, there’s only a thread of truth in the e-mail and a whole lot of fabrication. To heed the plea in the e-mail to stop eating at McDonald’s and to “send this note to 10 more people” would do more harm to the beef industry than any small amount of beef imports.

News flash here, people: All foreign beef is still subject to USDA inspection and approval. McDonald’s only purchases and uses 100 percent USDA approved beef and poultry. Imports are still subject to a tariff limit and import quotas have been in place since before you produced your first steer. And the U.S. supply of lean beef is tight – produce learner beef and you could regain some of that import market.

In 2001, approximately 12 percent of the total U.S. beef supply was imported. Of that, 7 percent was lean trim for ground beef. Here’s more food for thought: U.S. beef exports have increased six-fold in the last 15 years while imports have only doubled.

If you want to boycott McDonald’s, you really are shooting your own foot: McDonald’s itself exports more than 19 million pounds of trim beef from the United States to its international stores.

Recently, fed cattle prices dropped to $62 per hundredweight, the lowest price seen in 2002, in large part because meat oversupplies continue to plague the livestock sector. Cattle slaughter during July was 3.6 percent larger than a year ago, and average dressed cattle weights were 2.7 percent heavier, which pushed July beef production 6.3 percent above a year ago.

It’s not rocket science: Give them what they want, not more of what no one will buy.

The e-mail accuses McDonald’s of testing imports because it’s too cheap to pay for U.S. beef. Not so, said John Hayes, senior director of U.S. beef procurement for McDonald’s, while speaking to Nebraska cattlemen in June.

“If it were just about price, we would have joined our competitors years ago in buying foreign beef,” Hayes said. “The fact is that by purchasing only U.S. beef, we’ve invested $160 million over the years that would have otherwise gone to foreign suppliers.”

Boycott McDonald’s? I don’t think so. In fact, I’m kind of hungry.

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