McDonald's Celebrates the Completion of Verified Sustainable Beef Pilot Project


“We did it! We did it,” exclaimed Francesca Debiase, chief supply chain and sustainability officer for McDonald’s, pumping her hands through the air, at yesterday’s celebration of the conclusion of McDonald’s Verified Sustainable Beef (VSB) Pilot in Calgary.

“Several years ago, McDonald’s supply chain made a really interesting discovery,” Debiase explained, “and that discovery was that ‘big’ does not have to equal ‘bad’. ‘Big’ can be good.”

Wanting to use their size and scale to “make a positive difference in the world,” the company committed to a goal of sourcing all of their food and packaging sustainably. Purchasing over 2% of the global beef supply, responsible for 30% of McDonald’s total carbon footprint, they thought focusing in on beef was a clear first step.

Because of leaders in the beef industry, McDonald’s Canada’s commitment to source 100% Canadian beef, and programs like Verified Beef Production, the Beef InfoXchange System, Environmental Farm Plans and the Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Beef Cattle, McDonald’s decided to run its first “verified sustainable beef” pilot in Canada.

The pilot worked with Where Food Comes From to assess 182 operations, including 121 ranches, 34 backgrounding operations, 24 feedlots, 2 beef processors and 1 patty plant. The operations were assessed on indicators developed out of the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef’s (GRSB) Principles and Criteria, and were aimed to be locally-relevant, segment-specific and outcome-based. The Pilot Project Management Team took the indicators through 150 versions before deciding to start on-farm verifications in May 2015.

Operations’ indicators were assessed using a 5-point scale with a score of ‘1’ indicating “Awareness and commitment to the outcomes” and 5 showing “Processes are in place to measure, monitor, verify and report outcomes towards goals.” In addition, a “Barrier to Entry” category meant there was “No awareness or plan for improvement specific to the outcomes.”

The team made it clear through their panel discussion Wednesday in Calgary that the objective-based outcomes were a result of wanting to “describe, not prescribe” practices, and that “verification was not policing to a standard.”

RealAgriculture’s Debra Murphy, in conversation with Jeffrey Fitzpatrick-Stilwell, senior manager of sustainability for McDonald’s Canada, in Calgary, Alberta.

But that didn’t mean all operations “passed” the assessment. Of the total 182 operations, 144 were verified. That meant a total of 8,967 head were moved through the verified sustainable supply chain, and, according to McDonald’s, the company sourced over 300,000 pounds of Canadian beef trim.

In their presentations, the Pilot Project Management Team offered some suggestions for improvement within the industry, after concluding some of the barriers to entry included participation in food safety and quality (Verified Beef Program) and information sharing (BIXS). They also saw room for improvements in chemical storage, record keeping, farm safety, the judicious use of pharmaceuticals and animal health. On the positive side, some of the operations were given a special shout-out for innovations around carbon management, biodiversity and cooperative research with universities.

With the completion of the pilot, McDonald’s handed the pilot results as well as some of their recommendations to the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, and will use the CRSB’s verification process when it’s finalized.

The full report is available online.

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