McDonald’s to remove ‘chemicals forever’ from food packaging

PFAS – per- and polyfluoroalkylated substances – are a family of man-made chemicals with known links to a myriad of health impacts, including cancer, hormonal disruption, and reproductive and developmental disorders, and they are present in our food. The compounds do not break down in the environment and can build up in our bodies as we are gradually exposed, earning them the nickname “forever chemicals. “Chemicals in this class are used in a variety of consumer goods, from weather-resistant clothing to furniture and rugs and even dental floss, making exposure inevitable. PFAS are ubiquitous, with biomonitoring showing that they are present in almost all Americans tested.

Given the harmful nature of these chemicals and the growing negative attention to PFASs by consumers, academics and the media, companies should begin to assess the need for their use. Recently, consumer health advocates have pushed food companies to eliminate PFAS from food packaging, where their use is particularly alarming. In 2020, the Mind the Store campaign published a report noting that several of the country’s largest fast food chains, including Mcdonalds, Burger King, and Wendy’s, all had packaging with high levels of fluoride, suggesting PFAS treatment. Following the report, McDonald’s received a flood of consumer petitions urging the company to stop using food packaging treated with PFAS.

Shareholders, building on a successful track record in removing BPA, PFOA, phthalates and other harmful chemicals from food packaging, are now highlighting the risks of PFAS to consumers and business. As you sow and First Affirmative have co-filed a shareholders’ resolution request McDonald’s to report on the public health risks associated with chemicals used in food packaging, expressing specific concerns regarding PFAS.

In January, McDonald’s has shown leadership in announcing phase out PFAS from its packaging globally by 2025. Investors now want the company to investigate its chemical risks more broadly and establish a plan to reduce its total chemical footprint, a strategy designed to end the wacky approach to chemical toxicity – and proactively plan for risk management. At the same time, investors want Burger King and Wendy’s to follow suit and commit to phasing out chemically treated food packaging. Rather than wait for regulations to catch up with science, companies need to proactively investigate, manage and report chemical risks in their business.

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