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Yum! Brands to animal ag industry: Don’t be like Jeff Spicoli


If you’re familiar with the 1982 cult classic “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” you probably know that, under most circumstances, it’s not a good idea to look like the movie’s famous surfer character. Jeff Spicoli.

John Hickson, Chief Sustainability Officer and Vice President, Global Government Affairs, Yum! Brands, presented to attendees in 2024 Animal Agriculture Alliance The Kansas City Stakeholder Summit is one specific example of why you shouldn’t do what Spicoli did.

No, he didn’t recommend going to Yum! KFC or brands Taco Bell Mark your location and immediately remove your shirt, as Spicoli and his companions did at the All-American Burger restaurant, violating the “no shirt, no shoes, no dice” policy. Nor did he suggest not delivering pizza from Pizza Hut (also a subsidiary of Yum! Brands) to his high school history class.

He had something completely different in mind: Don’t say “I don’t know“.

If you need some context, this was the response Spicoli gave to his history teacher Mr. Hand when asked why he was constantly late for his class. Mr. Hand, in turn, wrote “I don’t know” on the board, underlined those words, and then sarcastically told Spicoli how great his words were.

Not only are these words not recommended in response to an angry teacher considering students’ fascination with skipping school, but they are also not recommended in response to a difficult question about specific animal production practices.

John Hickson, Chief Sustainability Officer and Vice President of Global Government Affairs, Yum!  The brands participated in a panel discussion at the 2024 Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholder Summit.John Hickson, Chief Sustainability Officer and Vice President, Global Government Affairs, Yum! The brands participated in a panel discussion at the 2024 Animal Agriculture Alliance Stakeholder Summit.Roy Graber

Critics or opponents of the animal agriculture industry often want hard data, sometimes when not all data is available.

One example given by Hickson deals with antibiotics in beef production. There are situations where Taco Bell may use beef from a mixed herd. He said there are “some really good antibiotics in some of our supply chains where that measurement doesn’t exist.”

Yum! Brands may not know all the answers about the feed those cattle ate, but that doesn’t mean they just say, “I don’t know.”

“We are trying hard to work with large supplier partners to at least get (enough data) to tell the story directly,” he said.

When you say “I don’t know,” Hickson said, “it gives your critics the upper hand in a very powerful way.”

All stations along the supply chain “need to find those tough spots and lean into them,” Hickson said. He said he believes there are a lot of ways the industry can add a layer of technology that reduces the cost of obtaining the required data and which he believes will be helpful in providing solid answers.



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