MCDONALD'S Corp. announced last week that, starting in 2016, it will begin an endeavor to purchase verified sustainable beef as a step forward in its mission to purchase sustainable beef for all of its restaurants worldwide.
In 2010, the company partnered with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to assess the greatest potential environmental and sustainability impact. As a result, the identified focus areas were beef, poultry, coffee, palm oil and wood fiber.
According to a new Beef Sustainability page on its website, a complete evaluation using a "widely recognized life-cycle analysis approach" calculated McDonald's carbon footprint from farm to fork across its global restaurants and supply chain.
The analysis found that 70% of the fast-food giant's greenhouse gas emission effects are in its supply chain, with 40% related to beef.
In a statement, McDonald's acknowledged that the task to purchase sustainable beef will not be easy, adding, "It's actually a big challenge because there hasn't been a universal definition of sustainable beef."
As a result, the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef was developed — a collaborative effort of founding members WWF, Cargill, JBS, Elanco, Merck, Solidaridad and Wal-Mart Stores and other multi-stakeholders — to draft guiding principles and best practices for sustainable beef.
A three-part plan for sustainable beef will begin this year, with further development of those guiding principles and criteria for sustainable beef.
At this time, Bob Langert, McDonald's vice president, global sustainability, told Greenbiz Group Inc. in an exclusive interview that the company will not commit to a specific amount it will purchase in 2016 or when it will achieve the goal of purchasing 100% sustainable beef.
Langert's statement is realistic given the fact that a set definition of sustainable beef has not been mutually agreed upon in the beef industry. Also, no one truly knows what would be required of a beef operation to qualify as a verified sustainable beef supplier in accordance with McDonald's standards.
In a statement, National Cattlemen's Beef Assn. (NCBA) chief executive officer Forrest Roberts said, "Farmers and ranchers in the U.S. take the issue of beef sustainability seriously, and we are proud of our track record on this topic. Last year, the beef checkoff-funded 'Beef Industry Sustainability Assessment' proved that those who are responsible for producing high-quality beef in this country have improved their social and environmental sustainability by 7% in the past six years."
Still, McDonald's website stated that, as a step in the strategy, it is planning a collaborative effort with NCBA and others to "drive sustainable beef production in the U.S."
"We have been actively engaged in discussions on the topic of beef sustainability with McDonald's and a number of other key stakeholders in the beef community," Roberts said. "McDonald's is an important customer for U.S. beef producers, and we are very interested to learn more about their plans for verified, sustainable beef."
NCBA has actively participated in the sustainable beef roundtable and agreed to assist in educating interested beef producers.
"Beef producers and others will have an opportunity to hear firsthand about McDonald's plans at the 2014 Cattlemen's College in Nashville, Tenn.," Roberts said, adding that McDonald's Langert "will be on hand to address attendees and answer their questions about the topic of supply chain sustainability plans."