Is McDonald's the World's Largest Purchaser of Cow Eyeballs?

From the Urban Legends Mailbag

Is McDonald's the world's largest purchaser of cow eyeballs?
McDonald's Restaurant. Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Dear Urban Legends:

Have you heard about one where McDonald's is allegedly the largest purchaser of cow eyeballs in the world? According to the rumor I've heard, "100% all beef" includes eyeballs. Can you please investigate this and refute or confirm it?


Dear Reader:

Let's face it, while most of us do eat fast food of one sort or another for the sake of convenience, we don't really trust it. We don't trust it because it's cheap, mass-produced and sold to us by vast, impersonal corporations that don't necessarily have our best interests at heart.

But we still eat it, suffering queasy afterthoughts as a kind of penance. Sharing fast food horror stories — of which "Icky Hamburger Additives" makes up a major sub-genre — is one way we express our collective misgivings about how we eat in the 21st Century.

The alleged adulterant currently under consideration is cow eyeballs, but over the years horse meat, kangaroo meat, camel meat and even earthworms were rumored to be used as secret substitutes for beef in McDonald's hamburgers. Small wonder the company now goes to the trouble of labeling all of its beef-related products thus:

Contains 100% pure USDA inspected beef; no additives, no fillers, no extenders.

Please note, that's 100% pure beef, not 100% of the beef.

Which would seem to rule out eyeballs. Indeed, under USDA rules the inclusion of any "beef byproducts" must be labeled accordingly.

Cost would seem to rule eyeballs out as well. Contrary to popular assumption, bovine eyeballs can fetch a higher price on the open market than the choicest cuts of beef.

That's because they're in demand at research facilities and college biology labs for experimental purposes. At one online biological supply house I checked (yes, you can buy cow eyeballs on the Internet!), the going rate was more than $2 apiece, in bulk. Similarly, earthworms — another alleged low-cost substitute for beef in fast food burgers — are much more expensive than beef itself.

If, in fact, McDonald's were the world's largest purchaser of cow eyeballs, we could only surmise that the burger chain is engaged in some sort of very expensive, super-secret scientific research, which would be a horror story unto itself.

Sources and further reading:

McDonald's USA Ingredients for Popular Menu Items
McDonalds.com, May 2014

Decoding Your Meat: A Guide to USDA Beef Labels
17 December 2014

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Emery, David. "Is McDonald's the World's Largest Purchaser of Cow Eyeballs?" ThoughtCo, Feb. 1, 2016, thoughtco.com/is-mcdonalds-the-worlds-largest-purchaser-of-cow-eyeballs-3299313. Emery, David. (2016, February 1). Is McDonald's the World's Largest Purchaser of Cow Eyeballs? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/is-mcdonalds-the-worlds-largest-purchaser-of-cow-eyeballs-3299313 Emery, David. "Is McDonald's the World's Largest Purchaser of Cow Eyeballs?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/is-mcdonalds-the-worlds-largest-purchaser-of-cow-eyeballs-3299313 (accessed November 24, 2017).