It sounds silly, but could make a tangible impact.

By Tim Nelson
Updated July 15, 2020
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Back when the Green New Deal was first gaining traction, one of the most headline-grabbing takeaways was the fact that it (correctly) pointed to methane emissions from cows raised for beef production as a source of greenhouse gas. Conservatives and climate change skeptics seized on this to argue (in almost complete bad faith) that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wanted to make hamburgers illegal.

Though it all sounds very silly, Burger King has nonetheless taken an important step to at least make ordering a Whopper a little bit greener. This week, the Restaurant Brands International fast food chain announced they’d be augmenting cow diets in order to reduce their level of methane emissions, which, yes, comes from cow farts.

According to QSR Magazine, the plan is to swap in 100 grams of dried lemongrass to cow diets during the “fattening” stage of beef production, which lasts three to four months. Based on data collected in partnership with researchers from Autonomous University at the State of Mexico and University of California, Davis, this could effectively reduce cow methane emissions by up to 33 percent. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, beef production is responsible for a little under six percent of total worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.

Credit: picture alliance/Getty Images

picture alliance/Getty Images

For Burger King, it’s an easy move to make its supply chain at least a little bit more sustainable.

"Beef is one of the top commodities that we buy at Burger King,” Burger King head of innovation and sustainability Matt Banton said in a statement quoted by QSR. “We also know that cattle are one of the top contributors to overall greenhouse gas emissions, so our job is to understand how we can continue to grow our business while still reducing the emissions from cattle over time."

Obviously, human activity— including factory farming— is responsible for the majority of methane emissions, to say nothing of other greenhouse gases like CO2. And widespread adoption of plant-based diets could make a further impact on reducing these emissions. Still, you have to give BK at least a little credit for doing something to make the beef it raises for slaughter slightly less harmful for the environment. Whether a bit of dried lemongrass actually makes a Whopper taste any better is anyone’s guess.