Following close behind the promotion of the Impossible Whopper, a meatless sandwich alternative, Burger King announced new plans to combat climate change. By changing the diet of cows to include 100 grams of lemongrass, Burger King believes methane emissions from the cows will be reduced by around 33%. First, less meat. Second, less methane. Could Burger King make a meaningful impact on climate change?
When looking at greenhouse gas emissions, agriculture makes up 10% of total emissions. However, when looking at total environmental impact, agriculture is responsible for an astounding majority of climate change. There is a great deal more involved in animal agriculture than just the gases released into the atmosphere. Raising livestock requires food, water, and land. This is what makes the greatest environmental impact.
Worldwide, agriculture is responsible for 80% of deforestation. This land is cleared both for raising animals, as well as growing grains to feed these animals. In the US alone, 70% of grains grown are going to livestock. Growing this feed accounts for one-third of agricultural land use worldwide, not including the land used for the animals themselves.
Another major factor is fresh water. 70% of our fresh water is going to agriculture, with the majority of that being used to raise animals and grow livestock feed. In fact, to get just one hamburger patty, 660 gallons of water are needed. By comparison, the Impossible Burger uses 87% less water, and has a total carbon footprint that is 89% smaller than that of beef.
Animal agriculture may account for just 10% of greenhouse gases, but it is “the leading cause of deforestation, water and air pollution and biodiversity loss.” Can lemongrass in cattle feed really make a difference? Less methane certainly means less greenhouse gas, although how much less of total methane in the atmosphere from feeding a small portion of cows a diet that reduces their methane emissions, is probably only making a dent. Any step in the right direction, however, is a good step to take.
Ironically, it is the Impossible Whopper that stands to make more of an environmental impact, even though it was not marketed as being environmentally friendly. As noted above, it is animal agriculture that is most responsible for ravishing the global climate, so reduction in meat, dairy and egg consumption would have the most profound overall impact on climate change.
The question of health still remains whether any burger, beef or plant-based, from Burger King is good for our bodies. We can all agree that a traditional fast-food burger is unhealthy, but what about the plant-based burgers? Unfortunately they are still processed, contain oils, are served on a bun made from highly-processed refined grains, and come with a side of greasy fries. It wouldn’t be a good idea to make the Impossible Whopper a frequent meal, but it’s great to know that there is a meatless option out there if you’re in a pinch. Its biggest benefit is that it can help people transition to a more plant-strong diet.
Where fast food is concerned, Burger King is pulling ahead of the curve.