McDonald’s to shift to “sustainable beef” (once it figures out what that is)

The fast food giant says it will change its purchasing practices beginning in 2016

Topics: McDonalds, meat industry, Beef, Sustainable food, , ,

Starting in 2016, McDonald’s will start purchasing something called “verified sustainable beef,” the fast-food giant announced today.

GreenBiz has the scoop:

“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. “We have achieved internal alignment and energy around that aspirational goal, which is a big task”…

Langert says McDonald’s isn’t yet ready to commit to a specific quantity it would purchase in 2016, or when it might achieve its “aspirational goal” of buying 100 percent of its beef from “verified sustainable sources.” (The company only will say, “We will focus on increasing the annual amount each year.”) Realistically, it could take a decade or more to achieve the 100-percent goal.

Sound like a lot of Mcfluff? Perhaps. While McDonald’s is making a lot of its ambitious, if slow, changeover to sustainable beef, it first has to figure out what that actually means. Other fast food chains focus on sustainable-sounding descriptors — Chipotle’s beef is “responsibly raised,” while Five Guys’ is “fresh” — but none are “verified” sustainable, because such a certification doesn’t currently exist.

According to Greenbiz, McDonald’s is working in tandem with a number of corporations and environmental organizations to change that. In 2012, they formed the Global Roundtable on Sustainable Beef, which is taking an expansive view of the concept of sustainability:



“One of the first priorities we identified was defining this nebulous monster of a term, sustainability,” [Cameron Bruett, Chief Sustainability Officer at beef producer JBS USA] explained. “What does it mean? And, particularly, what does it mean for beef? Our idea was to scope out five to 10 critical areas that we think no matter where you are in the world producing beef, and no matter what part of the supply chain you’re involved in, you should be addressing. And if you are addressing those areas in whatever manner is suitable for your region, you are on the path to continuous improvement. You are on the path to sustainability.”

The group developed six draft principles that the membership is considering, along with multiple criteria within each principle. The principles cover people (human rights, safe and healthy work environment), community (culture, heritage, employment, land rights, health), animal health and welfare, food safety and quality, natural resources (ecosystem health) and efficiency and innovation (reducing waste, optimizing production, economic vitality).

The exclusive is only part one of a three-part series, so presumably there’s a lot more to come about McDonald’s’ progressive new initiative. Maybe it’ll even end up involving treating their employees as ethically as they hope to treat their cattle.

Lindsay Abrams

Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email labrams@salon.com.

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