McDonald’s Exempt From Sustainable Food Sourcing at London Olympics

Olympic Park, London
Olympic Park, London

If you are fortunate enough to visit London this summer for the 2012 Olympics, you will have plenty of eating options. Those who do not want to venture to East London’s fabulous Indian and Pakistani restaurants but cannot afford the City’s pricey eating establishments can always eat at the Olympic Park McDonald’s. The massive golden arches will seat 1500 people at full capacity and is tenfold the size of the average McDonald’s eatery.

But when it comes to chicken, Brazil, not the United Kingdom, will win the gold medal this summer. That is because McDonald’s was granted an exemption to London’s local food sourcing goals and therefore will only source 10 percent of the chicken it processes from British farmers. The admission by Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London Olympic and Paralympic Organising Committee (LOCOG), arched eyebrows, and even drew anger, in the London Assembly.

The exemption comes despite the London Games’ Food Vision, which aims to serve 14 meals at 40 different locations using sustainably grown and locally sourced ingredients. The goal was certainly an ambitious one: the Olympic Village alone will chow through 232 tones of potatoes, 330 tons of fruits and vegetables, 19 tons of eggs and 31 tons of poultry. So is giving a pass to McDonald’s a “disgrace,” as London Assembly member Jenny Jones has alleged, or was the vision simply too ambitious?

Coe, however, defended McDonald’s commitment and pointed out that the company will source beef and pork from the UK and Ireland while offering free range eggs and organic milk. McDonald’s also spends GBP 300 million (USD 475 million) on British agriculture annually.

That McDonald’s is playing chicken with its food sourcing policy is not the headache for London’s Olympic organizers. Critics sneered at the revelation that 11 million tickets for the games were printed in the United States. If you want a souvenir from your Olympics experience, keep in mind that over 90 percent of the tchotchkes will be manufactured outside the United Kingdom; two-thirds will have the “Made in China” stamp. The Dow Chemical sponsorship is a festering controversy as well.

In fairness, London’s Olympic organizers are attempting to do something no other mega-sized sporting event has tried to do: keep a strong focus on sustainability and offer transparency about its progress. McDonald’s backtracking does not make the Olympic Games one organic french fry short of a sustainable Happy Meal; if anything, this is a case of promising too much and raising expectations to steeply. Overall, what London 2012 has accomplished so far is impressive and will set the bar high for future events.

Perhaps Rio 2016 can promise to source chicken from the United Kingdom.

Leon Kaye is a freelance writer, sustainability consultant and the editor of He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business. You can follow him on Twitter.

Photo courtesy of WikiCommons (BaldBoris).

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

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