Regardless of what you think of the sustainability issue, you might need to measure and document more practices in the future. 
 
The retail market will drive that need, as consumers increasingly pressure corporations to verify their supply chains are 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 didn’t set specific goals at the time because sustainable production was not well-defined, as well as any measurable indicators of environmental, economic and social sustainability across beef production sectors.
 
To address those issues, McDonald’s partnered with the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef to conduct a “Sustainable Beef Pilot Project” in Canada. McDonald’s solicited input from a range of stakeholder groups across Canada to develop specific indicators and a scoring methodology for sustainability. The group identified 31 indicators for the cow-calf stage, 29 for fed cattle and 28 for processing plants. The group developed a one-to-five performance scale and used independent third-party auditors to assign a performance score for each indicator.
 
The pilot project was completed in June 2016. 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 farms. Ultimately, the program verified 8,967 cattle from 121 cow-calf producers and back-grounders, 20 feedlots and two packers. 
 
McDonald’s was able to source more than 300,000 lb. 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. 
 
While the pilot test was small, it serves as an example of where companies are headed in their efforts to demonstrate sustainability to customers and shareholders. Livestock producers need to make their voices heard, as some form of sustainability verification could become a cost of doing business in the future. 
 
Read more about the McDonald’s pilot project at www.mcdvsb.com.
 
 

Note: This story appears in the November/December issue of Drovers.