From the June/July 2016 issue of Drovers.

Aldi, the Germany-based grocery chain that has 10,000 stores in 18 countries, announced new store-brand meat products this past month they call “Never Any!”

It’s the latest example of a food retailer seeking to satisfy the desires of their customers with products that are produced with greater concern for the environment, animal well-being or human welfare. Whether or not products such as “Never Any!” accomplish those goals is irrelevant. Successful companies will continue to provide consumers with what they want to buy, rather than trying to sell them products we want to produce.

That is the convincing argument for sustainable beef. Producers can counter that their operations, especially those long-standing, multi-generational farms and ranches, are already sustainable or they would not be in business. True enough. But the sustainability movement is about telling that story to consumers and showing you share their concern for animals and
the environment.

Some of the biggest names in the food business—McDonald’s, Wal-Mart, Tyson Foods and Cargill, for instance—are moving forward with sustainability programs that show consumers they care about how their business impacts the rest of the world. McDonald’s sustainability pilot project in Canada provides a glimpse of how such programs will affect your business.

The short answer is maybe “not much,” though it might require acceptance of the fact consumers just want to know more about what you do.

McDonald’s Canadian pilot project involved 182 producers who were required to submit to third-party verification to prove their cattle are raised under accepted practices for environmental responsibility, animal health, food safety, worker safety, community responsibility and innovation. Nearly 9,000 head of cattle were tracked.

“It was adult show and tell,” says John Buckley, a Cochrane, Alta., rancher, to the Calgary Herald. He described the experience as a positive one. Buckley and other ranchers found the project helped them gain a better understanding of what was being asked of them. In fact, the Canadian project helped demonstrate that ranchers are already completing 95% of the sustainability criteria, they just didn’t have a system to communicate that with consumers.

An advocate for embracing sustainability in the U.S. is White City, Kan., rancher Debbie Lyons-Blythe, who is the product of a multi-generational ranching family.

“We’ve done a poor job of communicating measures of our sustainability,” Lyons-Blythe says. “We need to be at the table to help shape the discussion.”

That’s a sentiment shared by Anne Wasko, Eastend, Sask., who participated in the Canadian project with her husband, Barry.

She told the Calgary Herald, “If we want to continue producing food and selling beef, if consumers are asking these questions then we most certainly have to provide the answers. And I’d rather do it in a proactive form than chase it down after the fact.”