News reports have stated that McDonald’s recently made the announcement that the company will start using only sustainable beef for its burgers.
The process to switch over to 100 percent sustainable beef will take a few years, until at least 2016 according to reports.
The process may be more of an undertaking than it appears since sustainable beef has not yet been officially defined.
A collective of food-industry stakeholders, including Cargill, Merck Animal Health, JBS, Walmart and the World Wildlife Fund, reportedly collaborated in conference on this very issue, later drafting a list of guidelines for sustainable beef, but no definite term exists yet. The group even has a name, the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, and has met in such cowtowns as Billings, Mont., and Omaha, Neb., in the last couple of years.
McDonald’s made the sustainable beef announcement shortly after the restaurant calculated its carbon footprint last year to find that 28 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions were beef-related, according to online reports.
“Our vision is to buy verifiable, sustainable beef in the future for all of our beef,” said Bob Langert, McDonald’s vice president, global sustainability, in a GreenBiz story.
Beef is still king
McDonald’s CEO Donald Thompson reportedly asked a group of CEOs, “If you were CEO of the company, what would you concentrate on?” In near unison, everybody responded, “Beef.”
“We picked beef not because it’s easy, but because it’s important to our consumers, because it’s important to the our stakeholders,” said Gonzalez-Mendez, according to GreenBiz.
The company selected four categories to focus on in order to increase revenue and beef was one, along with poultry, breakfasts and beverages. To that end, the company recognizes that its future appetite for beef, as it is currently produced, is unsustainable in every sense of the word. For business reasons alone, it needed to lead the change.
Forrest Roberts, CEO of National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said, “Farmers and ranchers in the United States 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 percent in the past six years.
“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. 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.
“Beef producers and others will have an opportunity to hear first-hand about McDonald’s plans at the 2014 Cattlemen’s College in Nashville, Tenn. Bob Langert, vice president of global sustainability for McDonald’s, will be on hand to address attendees and answer their questions about the topic of supply chain sustainability plans."
A Cattlemen’s Perspective
Colorado cattle feeder Mike Callicrate, owner of Ranch Foods Direct, had this to say:
“I have grown to dislike the word ‘sustainable.’ It probably began when I saw Walmart as the presenter on sustainability at the Grocery Manufacturers Association gathering a few years ago at the Broadmoor Hotel. McDonald’s announcing anything to do with sustainability further diminishes the meaning of the word, as the company has been responsible for so much of the destruction in our global farming and food system. McDonald’s size alone has driven unprecedented and destructive concentration and consolidation in the food system, especially in the meat sector. Their dollar menu is an icon of destruction, not sustainability — from paying below cost of production prices for beef to exploitation of everything from the environment to food workers. Their announcement is pure consumer deception and really about sustaining stock values, as they source the cheapest beef on the planet — perhaps from pastures near a South American rain forest.”