McDonald's completes sustainable-beef pilot project

Corporations want to tell their customers that their businesses, including their supply chains, are verifiably sustainable. McDonald's, for example, announced in 2014 its commitment to begin sourcing at least some of its beef from verifiable sustainable production chains by 2016. The company did not set specific numeric or percentage goals for sustainable supplies at the time, largely because "sustainable" production was not well defined, as were any measurable indicators of environmental, economic and social sustainability across beef-production sectors.

Much has changed over the past two years, with the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB), of which McDonald's is a founding member, working to develop a framework for measuring and monitoring sustainability at each production stage and in different environments.

As part of those efforts, the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CRSB), launched its own "National Beef Sustainability Assessment and Strategy" project, which it recently completed. Within that project, McDonald's partnered with the CRSB to conduct a "Sustainable Beef Pilot Project" in Canada.

In developing the pilot project, McDonald's solicited input from a range of stakeholder groups across Canada to develop specific indicators of sustainability and a scoring methodology for cattle in the program. Eventually the group identified 31 indicators for the cow-calf stage, with 14 considered critical, 29 indicators for fed cattle with 11 critical and 28 indicators for processing plants with 9 critical. The group developed a one-to-five performance scale, and used independent third-party auditors to assign each participating operation with a performance score for each indicator.

The pilot project was completed in June 2016. The CRSB reports that between January 2014 and April 2016, the group conducted 183 on-site verifications on 178 beef operations, two packers, one beef-patty plant and two dairy arms.

Initially, the program involved over 4 million head of cattle, but most fell out due to gaps in verification between the cow-calf and packer stages. Ultimately, the program verified 8,967 cattle from 121 cow-calf producers and backgrounders, 20 feedlots and two packers. McDonald's was able to source just over 300,000 pounds of beef trim from verifiably sustainable beef sources during the pilot. Company representatives say they believe they can scale the program up relatively quickly to build a significant supply chain for sustainable beef in Canada.

McDonald's plans to maintain verified status for the participating producers, who can now use self-generated "desk verifications" to document their practices. Those verified producers also are grandfathered into the CRSB verification framework, which the group will beta-test over the next year.

While this pilot test was small, it serves as an example of where companies are headed in their efforts to demonstrate sustainability to their customers and shareholders. Like the GRSN and the CRSB, the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef is in the process of developing sustainability indicators and guidelines with input from multiple stakeholder groups. NCBA and other producer organizations are involved in the process, and producers need to make their voices heard, as some form of sustainability verification could become a cost of doing business in the future.


Latest News

Mastitis in Beef Cows: What You Need to Know

Although mastitis, an infection of the udder, is often considered a dairy cow problem, the disease may also impact beef producers. Here's what you need to know and look for and how to help protect your herd.

We Need More Answers, Veterinarian Says About Biosecurity Research

As a veterinarian, Jeremy Pittman, senior director of U.S. veterinary services for Smithfield Foods, says he is constantly tasked with, asked about and challenged on biosecurity processes or protocols. 

Mineral and Vitamin Considerations When Drylotting Cows

Managing cows in a drylot can be a way to maintain the herd when forage production is reduced. However, it's important to make sure cows are getting the vitamins and minerals they need.

Animal Activist and Former Baywatch Star Found Not Guilty in ‘Open Rescue’

Former “Baywatch” star Alexandra Paul and activist Alicia Santurio were found not guilty of misdemeanor theft after “rescuing” two chickens in 2021. Although they faced jail time, Paul says it was worth the risk.

7 Tips for More Effective Vaccination Programs in Calves

Ask 10 dairy producers what they believe is an effective vaccination program for calves, and you’ll likely get 10 unique answers. That’s OK, because there is no effective one-size-fits-all strategy.

For the Love of the Game, How Agriculture Helped Birth the Game of Basketball

It may not seem like basketball has a strong connection to agriculture, but from the balls used in the NBA, to the sport itself, agriculture has direct ties to a sport that takes over televisions during March Madness.