The Vegetarian Resource Group Blog

VRG finds L-cysteine in McDonald’s Apple and Cherry Pies is derived from an Animal Source

Posted on December 15, 2009 by The VRG Blog Editor

Click here to read VRG’s latest report on L-cysteine at McDonald’s, also pasted below.

L-cysteine is “A common dough conditioner, flavor enhancer in human and pet foods, and precursor in some dietary supplements is most often derived from human hair or duck feathers and to a lesser extent from pigs’ bristles and hooves.” (for more information on L-cysteine, click here)

L-cysteine in McDonald’s Apple and Cherry Pies is Derived from an Animal Source

by Jeanne Yacoubou, MS
VRG Research Director

A Pacific Northwest VRG member asked us about the source of the L-cysteine in the cherry pies at her local McDonald’s. Erin, a McDonald’s customer service representative, told us in January 2009 that since the cherry pie is not a national, “core” menu item, no information about the pie was available. Erin suggested that we contact the local restaurants that carry it.

The VRG made several random calls to McDonald’s restaurants in Seattle, WA and Portland, OR. We were given a wide variety of answers but the general conclusion was that no one knew because they had no ingredient information. We were directed back to the corporate offices of McDonald’s.

The VRG discovered that the Bama Company supplies McDonald’s with their pies. We left several messages and sent several emails to Bama in the spring of 2009 but received no response.

In May 2009, The VRG received a call from Kathy at McDonald’s Illinois corporate office. She told us that the L-cysteine in McDonald’s cherry pie is derived “from an animal source.” When we inquired further regarding the specific animal source, Kathy told us that the supplier did not provide any more specification. Kathy also noted that supplier and ingredient information may change and that they guarantee no product as vegetarian.

As a follow-up, The VRG called the McDonald’s consumers line again and asked if the L-cysteine in the apple pie was also derived from “an animal source.” In November 2009, Michaela told us that the L-cysteine in the apple pie was from an animal source. When we asked for more specification, Josie, who works in menu development at McDonald’s corporate office, called us and said that the L-cysteine in the apple pie is from “an animal source but not human-derived.” When I asked for more specification (specifically, whether it was from duck feathers), she said that she had no other information and said that degree of specification is proprietary information.

Interested readers may refer to our article on L-cysteine available here: Readers may subscribe to our free enewsletter at for further updates on ingredients used at McDonald’s and all other major restaurant chains.

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