by Marion Nestle
Sep 8 2009

McDonald’s goes non-GM (in the U.K., at least)

A colleague brought back a couple of brochures she picked up at a McDonald’s in London.  They make interesting reading, especially the parts about genetically modified (GM) ingredients.

“The Simple Facts About Our Food” (printed April 2007) says:

The feed used for rearing our chickens is not genetically modified and is free from antibiotic growth promoters…We know consumers in the UK often express concern about GM products or ingredients and therefore we can reassure you that we do not use any GM products or ingredients containing GM material in our food.

“That’s What Makes McDonald’s” (2008) says:

Our free range eggs…come from hens fed on a non-GM diet and are free from artificial colorants…We’d like to reassure you that we don’t use any GM products or ingredients containing GM material in our food.

Have questions?  McDonald’s U.K. answers them (sort of) at

GM labeling (or non-GM) is a no brainer.  If McDonald’s can do it in the U.K., it can do it here.  And so can all other food makers.  You don’t have to decide whether GM is good, bad, or indifferent to want it labeled.  Labeling would reduce suspicion, if nothing else.

And I wonder how those GM Nutrageous candy bars (see previous post) are doing in the U.K.


The Nutrition Action Health Letter often compares the chains on fat content, use of GMO’s, nutritional options for children . . .and McDonalds’, as offensive as it is, always comes out way ahead on the ratings.

>>If McDonald’s can do it in the U.K., it can do it here.

I’m not sure that’s true. McDonald’s is making that guarantee voluntarily (meat from animals fed GM feed is not legally classed as GM in the UK) but it is only able to do so because of the transparency in the European supply chain.

In the UK a chicken farmer will know if the grain it is using for feed is GM or non-GM because the grain must be labelled by law. McDonald’s is only able to make that guarantee only has to go back as far as the chicken farmers for a guarantee that the chicken was not fed GM grain.

In the US, the chicken farmer probably has no idea if the grain is GM or not because there is no labelling law. The only way it can guarantee the feed is not GM is to buy certified organic feed and that is a whole other ball game. So McDonald’s would have to go back not only to the chicken farmers but also to all of the feed suppliers used by all of those farmers. It’s much more difficult.

Individual food manufacturers introducing their own labelling without the underlying framework of regulation might appeal to fans of small government, but it is not really practical in a country the size of the US. I believe it would need regulation and a mandatory labelling program in order to work.

I don’t know if this is still the case but I remember about 10 years ago Ben and Jerry’s ice cream was labelled along the lines of: “Unfortunately we cannot guarantee that there are no GM products in this ice cream.”

There’s no reason McDonald’s would find it any easier than Ben & Jerry’s. Perhaps their size means they have more clout with their suppliers but their size also means they have many more suppliers and supply chains to deal with.

Well I would say it’s a good marketing strategy as the consumer scrutiny has actually increased over the years.

I also agree that it would be more complex for McDonald’s to eliminate genetically modified (GM) ingredients in the U.S. compared to in Britain. I wish that McDonald’s consumers would actually want non-genetically modified ingredients in the U.S.A. Something that I did notice, that McDonald’s could do in the U.S.A., is the (claim) of the use of free-range eggs. The inherent cruelty of chicken factory farming (including egg farming) breaks my heart. If McDonald’s changed to only using free-range eggs in the U.S.A. then it would make conditions better (not ideal, but better) for many, many egg-laying hens. Unfortunately free-range eggs cost six times the price of non-free-range eggs (in Lexington, Kentucky). If McDonald’s used only free-range eggs then their buying power would reduce the price of free-range eggs, but the current disparity in price of free-range eggs in the U.S.A. would probably prevent McDonald’s from considering using free-range eggs. It would be wonderful if McDonald’s only used free-range chickens as well as free-range eggs. Oh well. I’d also like for McDonald’s to consider offering more vegetarian options.

  • Daniel K. Ithaca, NY
  • September 12, 2009
  • 11:43 am

If you think that McDonald’s should look into GM labeling or going GM/GMO-FREE in some/all of their foods (it doesn’t have to be an all at once thing, does it?)

then contact them:

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