McDonald’s says it is now selling ‘verified sustainable’ beef — but is holding off on saying it has fulfilled the pledge it made to consumers two years ago.
“We’re confident that we are sourcing verified sustainable beef because we have completed 82 full verifications,” said Jeffrey Fitzpatrick-Stilwell, senior manager of sustainability with McDonald’s Canada.
“Because of the large portion of Alberta participation in the pilot and the fact that the two plants that we source raw material from are both in Alberta, it would be difficult for there not to be verified sustainable beef in our supply chain.
“But we are still a few months away from making the claim.”
The fast-food giant can’t say how many head of cattle made it into its supply chain and won’t do that analysis until its verifications are completed. So far, 66 Alberta operations have been verified, along with five in Saskatchewan; three in Manitoba, B.C.; and two in Ontario. Another 100 are slated to be completed by the end of March.
“I will be pleased if we end up with 100 to 150 full complete verifications — that looks doable at this point,” Fitzpatrick-Stilwell said in an interview in late January.
In January 2014, McDonald’s pledged it would start using sustainable beef and chose Canada as the site of its pilot project. It then worked with the Canadian beef sector to create 40 “indicators” — which cover areas such as animal care, environmental stewardship, and food safety practices — to rate an operation. To qualify as verified sustainable beef, every step of the supply chain an animal passes through must be verified, from the cow-calf operator, to the backgrounder, to the feedlot, to the slaughter plant.
McDonald’s Canada is still encouraging more producers to participate and is sending representatives to workshops (including one in Hussar on Feb. 5) and farm, forage and beef conferences across the country. Producers who have been verified are attending meetings to talk about their experience with the process, and why they participated.
Fitzpatrick-Stilwell said he can’t give information about how individual farms participating in the pilot have scored, but noted that the pilot does emphasize the need for good record-keeping. Producers tend to score higher if they have been maintaining good records.
“That’s one of the big lessons we will give back to the industry,” he said. “As there is more verification and assessment happening, there are a lot of these things that you can do really well on if you keep records on what you’re doing.
“It’s understandable why a lot of people don’t keep records (if) it’s a small operation and it’s all in your head. But this is one of the reasons to write it down. That’s where we get veracity and credibility.”
Overall, McDonald’s is extremely pleased with the pilot and the response from the Canadian beef sector, he said, adding the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef will take over the verification process once McDonald’s pilot project has ended.
“The positive engagement we’ve had through the pilot will grow and expand with the work of the roundtable,” said Fitzpatrick-Stilwell. “We were not creating a McDonald’s standard. We were doing a project to help inform ourselves internally about what the verification of sustainable beef looks like, and what the challenges and opportunities are.”
There will also be an event in late spring to thank everybody who participated in the pilot and share what the company has learned.
“We promised the Canadian roundtable a full report that would give it an overview of all the things we looked at; what we included; and successes and failures along the way,” he said.
“It’s going to be a big year for beef in Canada, with the success of the McDonald’s pilot, and McDonald’s — assuming everything is successful — being able to claim Canada as the first geography where we were able to source, verified sustainable beef.”
The first national Canadian beef industry conference in August will be followed by the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef’s meeting in Banff in October.
“2016 will be a great year for Canadian beef domestically, but also on the international stage,” said Fitzpatrick-Stilwell.
McDonald’s is still looking for more producers to participate in the pilot project. To learn more or to participate, go to vsbpilot.ca.