Every beef burger that’s eaten in the UK, and had ever been eaten in the UK, is made in one factory in Scunthorpe. OSI Food Solutions make up to three million burgers a day, using meat sourced from 17,000 UK and Irish farmers. In total they make their way through 380,000 cattle a year. What’s amazing is that there is no contract between McDonalds and OSI. There never has been and, in all likelihood, there never will be. Part of this is down to the production line that OSI have developed, patenting and refining it so that they are the only plant in the UK that can meet McDonalds’ standards. Full set of pictures here.
We spent the day following a McDonalds production line, meeting a local farmer as well as a flagship restaurant. As a non-meat eating, cook from scratch, punk inclined individual I was, strangely, really looking forward to the day. It’s quite rare to get given the access we had, despite having a national paper running the article. Years of negative PR and close scrutiny of procedures have, understandably, left most fast food chains wary of journalists snooping around their operations. But that was then and this is now. McDonalds especially have embraced positive marketing, showcasing their links to local food producers and commitment to organic food – they’re the second largest buyer of organic milk in the UK after Tesco.
I’ll be the first to admit that seeing a selected few tiny cogs of a huge international machine is not enough to make an informed judgement. If you’ve read books such as Eric Schlosser’s ‘Fast Food Nation’, published in 2002, you’d be rightly sceptical of how companies, such as McDonalds, carry out their business – and make it as profitable as possible. But there was, and is, a knock on effect of being under constant scrutiny – standards have to be raised and maintained.
Personally I think when you run a company that places profits over food standards there will always be parts of your business that will be difficult to stomach (sorry). Shareholders do not care that the cows, pigs and chickens are well looked after, they care about dividends and year on year growth. And, really, does McDonalds’ core customer base care about animal welfare? I’m not a McDonalds customer so my views on how animals should be treated, from farm to slaughter, aren’t ones that fast food chains will care about. I read the Guardian, don’t eat meat and very rarely step through their doors.
Will the ‘public’ perception of fast food ever make a difference? And when we say ‘public’ is that an accurate reflection of views or merely the view that the media likes to portray? The golden arches have seen five years of continuous growth and served 325m people in one quarter in the UK. McDonalds has clearly placed itself much more as a family friendly restaurant rather than a fast food takeaway and it’s interesting that their growth has been in contrast to established chains such as Little Chef struggling in the current economic climate. Is their success down to a better marketing strategy, transparancy of operations or a change in eating habits? More likely it’s a combination of the three.