McDonald’s this week announced it plans to begin purchasing “sustainable beef” by 2016. Eventually the company hopes to purchase beef exclusively from certified sustainable sources, but they acknowledge it could take time, first to define just what sustainability means in different environments and production systems, then to develop verifiable supply chains.
A McDonald’s web page outlines the company’s plan for sustainable beef, which includes:
- Create principles and criteria for sustainable beef production
- Identify and test sustainable beef production practices
- Lead with transparency and engagement
- Work closely with our suppliers and other partners for change in the industry
Fortunately, McDonald’s has been receiving input from a variety of stakeholder groups as they work to define and promote sustainable beef production. The company is one of the founding members of the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB), which includes membership from conservation groups, producer associations including the NCBA, retailers and companies providing products and services to the global beef industry. In addition to McDonald’s, founding members include Cargill, Elanco, JBS, Merck Animal Health, Walmart and the World Wildlife Fund.
In November 2010, the roundtable organized a Global Conference on Sustainable Beef, which drew about 300 participants including producers, packers, retailers, restaurateurs, environmentalists, scientists and others. At that time, the coalition had no formal organizational structure, but the group announced in 2012 it has adopted statutes and bylaws that will guide its work, and formalized the organization’s commitment to a global beef supply chain. The group emphasizes the “triple-bottom-line” approach to sustainability, meaning the production chain must be environmentally sound, socially responsible and economically viable.
During the 2010 conference, much of the discussion centered on defining sustainability and identifying sustainable or non-sustainable practices in beef production. There seemed to be general agreement that use of technologies that improve production efficiency can contribute to sustainability. Participants also seemed to agree that while beef production can be sustainable, there is no “one size fits all” solution. Meeting the triple bottom line of sustainability will require different production systems depending on various cultures and environments, and that producers around the world have opportunities to improve efficiency and intensify beef production toward higher profits and greater sustainability.