When you hear the word “sustainable,” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? It probably isn’t McDonald’s, is it? Yet the fast food chain recently announced that they are committed to sourcing their beef from sustainable cattle operations.
The first step in this process is defining “sustainable beef.” There isn’t a general consensus and there are quite a few factors to consider. Beef is an incredibly complex product. McDonald’s currently sources their beef from CAFOs. Does “sustainability” simply apply to CAFO operations – how they use water, how they dispose of waste, how they minimize methane emissions from the animals, etc. – or does it extend to the farms and companies providing feed and antibiotics to the CAFOs? How do things like animal and employee welfare factor into sustainability? What about processing and transportation? What about transportation? Can you really call a burger “sustainable” if the steer was born in North Dakota, raised and processed in Colorado, and sold in New Hampshire? Also, any given burger could contain meat from hundreds of different cows. How do you ensure each and every one of those cows was raised sustainably?
Those are strictly American concerns. McDonald’s is a multinational. How will these principles and definitions apply to their international stores?
Can you produce beef sustainably and still sell a burger for just $1? How will people react if McDonald’s increases their prices?
They have a lot to think about.
The chain is currently working with the Global Roundtable on Sustainable Beef to come up with a formal definition for “sustainable.” Once they have that nailed down, McD’s will start buy meat that meets those standards. They will start buying a small percentage of their beef from sustainable sources and will increase that percentage each subsequent year.
I am very interested to see how this all plays out in the next few years.