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McDonald's French Fries Still Not Vegetarian

By October 26, 2011

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McDonald's French Fries

I'm not sure how many vegans or vegetarians eat at McDonald's, but I do still meet some who think that the result of the McDonald's french fry lawsuit was that McDonald's changed to a vegetarian recipe. McDonald's did end up paying $10 million as a result of that litigation, but they did not change their recipe.

In case you haven't heard, McDonald's was sued in 2001 when it was discovered that the "natural flavor" in their french fries contained beef extract, after they'd been telling customers that the french fries were vegetarian. A class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of vegetarians and McDonald's settled for $10 million, with $6 million going to vegetarian organizations.

When several vegans and vegetarians told me that the french fries are now vegan and/or vegetarian, I had to double check. As of today, the ingredients are listed as:

Potatoes, vegetable oil (canola oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, natural beef flavor [wheat and milk derivatives]*, citric acid [preservative]), dextrose, sodium acid pyrophosphate (maintain color), salt. Prepared in vegetable oil (Canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil with TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness). Dimethylpolysiloxane added as an antifoaming agent.
*(Natural beef flavor contains hydrolyzed wheat and hydrolyzed milk as starting ingredients).

This led to some debate, as some thought that the "natural beef flavor" contained only wheat and milk. So I contacted the company through their website and they provided this reply:

With regard to our French fries, any customer in the U.S. who contacts McDonald's USA to ask if they contain beef flavoring is told "yes." For flavor enhancement, in the U.S., McDonald's French fry suppliers use a very small amount of beef flavor as a natural flavoring during the par-frying process at the potato processing plant. In the restaurant, the French fries are cooked in vegetable oil.

In addition, we have no plans to change the way we prepare our French fries in the U.S. However, it is important to know that our French fries are prepared differently in other countries.

It's disappointing that they think they need to put dead cows into something that could be perfectly vegan and delicious with just potatoes, oil and salt. Not that I'd eat there, anyway.

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Doris Lin, Esq. is an animal rights attorney and Director of Legal Affairs for the Animal Protection League of NJ.


October 28, 2011 at 1:14 pm
(1) Danyelle says:

Consumers have the right to know where their food comes from and how animals are treated before they reach their plates. This is a good, short video to watch about this topic: MeatVideo.com. Or visit ChooseVeg.com for more information on adapting a more compassionate lifestyle.

October 29, 2011 at 3:22 am
(2) um1928 says:

it’s never defined what “beef flavor” is. It could be some chemically synthesized ingredient.
Anyway, even if this flavor derives from an animal source, the word “flavor” suggests that it is used in very small quantities (0.1-0.001% for example) which is far beyond comparison with an average meat consumption. During the preparation, the proteins have been denaturated, several times processed, refined, so that the final product has nothing in common with the meat from which it originated. Now, if you still disagree, remember that petrol oil it is also processed under high pressure animals. So any time you take a bus or airplane, you burn some extinct animal. Plastic, like your toothbrush, or detergent is made of the same extinct animals. And so on…
So the question is, do you want to fear all your life that your french fries might have contained a molecule from some animal? Or you want to care about people and real problems they are facing.

November 11, 2011 at 9:30 am
(3) Ajay says:

McD’s french fries in UK do not contain half the things stated on the US ingredients list. they seem to be ok for vegetarians and vegans. US seems to be stuck in adding as much junk as possible into everything they eat to make it addictive, maybe take a leaf from Europe’s book and cook a little more healthily by discarding all those processed ingredients.
UK ingredients:
Potatoes, Vegetable Oil (Sunflower, Rapeseed), Dextrose (only added at beginning of season). Prepared in the restaurants using a non-hydrogenated vegetable oil. Salt is added after cooking

December 12, 2011 at 7:19 pm
(4) kenwardski says:

With regards to um1928. Vegans don’t always just think of just their meal in particular but also the production as a whole. It’s simply the fact that an animal product is used and that animal was killed for said flavor. Sure “flavor” is probably a small quantity, but over time this adds up, and as far as McD’s production goes, it has to a substantial amount to make all those fries.

March 7, 2012 at 9:46 pm
(5) Andrew says:

If the beef ingredient is so negligible, why not drop it altogether? I suspect the beef flavor, extracted from God knows what part of the slaughterhouse offal, is more important than they let on, as compensation for what would otherwise be tasteless food. See _Fast Food Nation_.

March 30, 2012 at 12:16 pm
(6) NicG says:

It would be really great if the vegans and vegetarians would just stop trying to eat at a BURGER JOINT. Just because you opted for a difficult lifestyle, the world should not have to bend to suit your microcosm. It’s the exact same situation as when environmentalists complain that oil companies don’t focus on alternative energy. You are more than welcome to believe what you want, but stop passively forcing it on people. When you give up stairs maybe you can sue Machu Picchu.

April 5, 2012 at 4:31 pm
(7) Stefano says:

NicG, you seem to have missed the point. McDonald’s was sued because they stated that their french fries were in fact vegetarian when they were not. If McDonald’s had said from the beginning that their fries contained meat in some form, they would not have been in the wrong at all.

Also, there are many different reasons that someone would choose a “difficult” lifestyle. Some vegetarians have religious objections to eating meat, some are for moral reasons, and some for health. Some (like me) object for all three reasons.

I’m not going to walk in and order a burger, but when you tell me that something is safe for me to eat, it better be.

April 14, 2012 at 7:47 am
(8) Sabah says:

What about people who only eat Halal meat? Don’t you think they should know it ahead?

May 11, 2012 at 9:30 am
(9) anju says:

As a Hindu I want to avoid anything with beef but its so difficult when you want to buy something as simple as french fries and cant as you are not sre if it conatins beef flavouring or not. I will stay well clear of macdonals as of now.

June 30, 2012 at 9:27 am
(10) JL says:

In Canada, the flavouring is listed as being from a vegetable source, so Canadian fries are suitable for vegetarians.

August 2, 2012 at 4:06 pm
(11) pudding says:

NicG, nobody’s saying you can’t also have your burgers, just that actually labeling non-vegetarian food as vegetarian is not okay. Burger joints can and do have more than meat; Taco Bell has plenty of vegetarian offerings. I don’t like MCDs much anyway, but it wouldn’t kill them to be considerate of a variety of diet choices.

August 27, 2012 at 3:45 pm
(12) RUDY says:

Why are vegetarians going to a BURGER place? Man put all the beef flavoring you want on my food. If it offends you there are plenty of other places to go eat. I don’t think McDonalds pretends to be a salad house or a soup house….they make BURGERS. In case you have forgotten burgers are made from dead flesh otherwise known as BEEF.
Hey don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a problem with people who want to abstain from meat. Go with God. But just because you don’t want to eat meat don’t f it up for the rest of us. I don’t go to your places and b*tch that my salad doesn’t contain meat. I know if I go to get a salad it should, most likely, be vegetarian.

September 16, 2012 at 3:01 pm
(13) Allison says:

How is it even legal for them to lie about the ingredients in their products? Some people have beef allergies and could get very sick from even a small amount of beef extract. This isn’t just about the fries not being vegetarian, they might be endangering their customers by doing this.

September 18, 2012 at 2:00 pm
(14) Ashley says:

I am very upset that McD’s is not required to label warnings on the fry box. I found out 2 weeks ago that the fries contain wheat and milk. Although some may think it’s such a small amount, it was enough for my young son to have an allergic reaction with his esophagus swelling. Since when does a french fry need to be made of anything other then potatoes and some salt?

October 22, 2012 at 2:16 pm
(15) McGonnegall says:

um1928 – sure it’s a by-product and animals are not killed directly for “natural flavoring,” but it’s not a trace ingredient that may be leftover on a conveyor belt at a processing plant, where you get tiny amounts of dairy, eggs, nuts, etc. that were not eliminated through the sanitation process. The oil that you mentioned is different. Most human beings in industrialized nations can go without McDonald’s french fries, but are not able to go without transportation that relies on fossil fuels (animals that were not killed to make the fuel, by the way). If more people eat less meat, the idea is that there are fewer by-products, making non-animal alternatives more economical. So surely a non-strict vegetarian or vegan could eat McDonald’s french fries, but if they do not support cruelty from the meat industry, chances are they will likely consume meat by-products.

October 22, 2012 at 2:16 pm
(16) McGonnegall says:

Rudy – vegetarians and vegans can actually eat fairly well at most steakhouses believe it or not! Steamed vegetables, baked potatoes, salads – all without meat and/or dairy added to the meals. Most vegetarians and vegans have friends and family that consume animals, so being able to eat somewhere with others is not uncommon. An omnivore can eat anywhere. Vegetarians and vegans are certainly slightly limited. Real french fries are simply cut potatoes fried in oil. To create a specific taste that is proprietary to the restaurant, other additives are used as ingredients to get a desired taste and smell. It’s actually quite addictive – people that eat fast food french fries may think real french fries (potatoes, oil, and salt) are not good or desirable. This is all kind of backwards. No one is messing anything up for you so don’t worry. However, wouldn’t you be frustrated if your 100% beef hamburger was 50% beef and 50% filler? To you, a hamburger should be 100% beef, not 50/50 of something you may not want to consume. So in essence, you can understand frustration when something that is supposed to be potatoes, vegetable oil, and salt (vegetarian) is not vegetarian. The fries smell delicious and are delicious – but there are hundreds of other french fries out there, just one less place to spend our money!

January 3, 2013 at 6:22 pm
(17) Random says:

“It’s disappointing that they think they need to put dead cows into something that could be perfectly vegan and delicious with just potatoes, oil and salt. Not that I’d eat there, anyway.”

I’m disappointed they don’t still fry their fries in beef tallow…they tasted way better when they did. If you don’t want to eat their…don’t. I liked them. I wonder why “omnivores” didn’t sue them to get the old recipe back…Hmmm. I think I know why.

March 10, 2013 at 2:03 am
(18) GP Willoughby says:

um1928, petroleum does not come from long dead animals. Animals are a horrible source of hydrocarbons. Petroleum comes from long dead plants as does coal and natural gas.

BTW, McD’s fries are yummy.

May 23, 2013 at 12:18 am
(19) Dan says:

Canola Oil? yech….disgusting. The epitome of unhealthy eating. Can anyone show me what a canola plant looks like? Canola is the very definition of GMO. Canola oil is – pure and simple – genetically modified RAPESEED OIL, which, in nature – NO ANIMAL eats – ‘cept stupid humans who think it’s fashionable.

June 6, 2013 at 8:17 pm
(20) Steve says:

They were delicious when they were fried in beef fat. They obviously have no intention of catering to the vegan crowd. Go back to frying them in beef fat.

June 25, 2013 at 2:02 pm
(21) KC says:

Totally ridiculous. It’s an outrage that they haven’t changed. Nobody can taste the beef extract anyway.

You want even better fries that ARE vegan? Go to Penn Station Subs, Steak and Shake, or Logan’s Roadhouse. (Logan’s has a ton of vegetarian and vegan options.)

Funny that a STEAKHOUSE is more vegan friendly than this joke of a restaurant.

June 28, 2013 at 4:34 pm
(22) Mark says:


Animals absolutely eat Rapeseed. I was just in Denmark, a couple farmers were complaining about a bunch of dear eating almost their entire rapeseed fields. It’s actually a big problem.

October 26, 2013 at 12:57 pm
(23) James says:

The term “Natural Beef Flavor” does not signify that the ingredient contains BEEF, but rather that it is made from NATURAL sources that simulate the flavor of beef. McDonalds settled the lawsuit because in the end it’s cheaper to do so than to try and reason with you lame idiots who simply won’t listen and carry on like you’re the owners of the whole world. Pathetic.

November 21, 2013 at 1:34 pm
(24) martin says:

I hate that people think being vegetarian or vegan is a hard lifestyle, I don’t see what’s so hard about being compassionate. What I find amazing is people love meat so much that they feel it must be in a food such as french fries which honestly only needs oil and salt.

January 7, 2014 at 2:20 pm
(25) DN says:

Get a life people…so what…humans should eat both….

February 15, 2014 at 9:23 am
(26) nouu says:

Ya matar a un animal. No es compasión. Es asesinato. Yo soy vegana porq estoy podrida de ver tanta explotación animal
Y podrida de q la.gente todo el tiempo quiera justificarlo
Se puede comer bien. Sin ningun tipo de ingrediente animal..y mc mierda. Tendria q cerrar q vende solo porqueria chatarra a la gente. Ir a mc. Es ir a rebentarte el.estomago.

February 23, 2014 at 11:21 pm
(27) Caitlyn says:

What some of you don’t seem to understand is that even though vegans and vegetarians chose the “difficult” diet, our friends and families did not. If everyone in my family says, “Hey, let’s get McDonald’s tonight,” I’m not going to want to make the extra trip because they have NOTHING for me. I’m not asking for a veggie burger or soy milk in my frozen coffee, I’m asking for french fries. And it might be a trivial amount, but the fact is that a conscious being had to die for a cartoon of fries? It’s unnecessary, ESPECIALLY if it’s a trivial amount.

Honestly, I don’t care so much about it. Now that they have it listed as being an animal byproduct, I know not to eat it. Sure, I’m disappointed, but I’m also disappointed that I can’t eat Twinkies. As vegans and vegetarians, we can’t be completely outraged every time we can’t eat something tasty because, ultimately, we CHOSE to eat this way. I’m not saying it doesn’t tick me off, but I really have no excuse to throw a fit.

Tl;dr, while it SHOULD be a “safe” food, we chose to eat this way. It’s time to get over it.

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