Moo: McDonald’s Commits to Sustainable Beef in 2016


The world’s largest hamburger chain announced on its website Tuesday that it is planning to source only “verified sustainable beef” by 2016. McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD) says that its new focus on sustainable beef is reflective of its all-around effort to make its meat production greener and more animal friendly. The company maintained its aspiration of “a world in which ALL the beef in our supply chain comes from verified sustainable sources.”

McDonald’s still has two years to get itself prepared for its new commitment, but during that time, the company said on its website that it will “listen, learn, and collaborate with stakeholders from farm to the front counter to develop sustainable beef solutions.”

Beef isn’t the only sustainability issue the Oak Brook, Illinois-based company is currently looking at, but it’s not surprising that it’s McDonald’s main focus right now, considering the chain sells about 1 billion pounds of beef annually in the United States. According to GreenBiz, beef represents about 28 percent of McDonald’s carbon footprint, so when the company sat down with partners World Wildlife Fund, beef suppliers Cargill and JBS, and others, it was clear sustainable beef should be at the top of its agenda. 

GreenBiz reports, “Beyond the greenhouse gas emissions associated with raising cows and producing beef, other major environmental impacts include deforestation and land degradation for cattle grazing or feed; the contamination of water, air and other natural resources; and the energy and natural resources embedded in fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides for grain to feed cattle.”

McDonald’s will start gearing up for sustainable beef purchasing now. Burger Business reports that the company’s timetable is to support development of global principles and criteria in 2014, develop targets for purchasing verified sustainable beef, and then begin purchasing sustainable beef in 2016. The only problem? McDonald’s can’t exactly define what the term “sustainable beef” really means.

According to the McDonald’s website, purchasing verified sustainable beef is easier said than done, because “there hasn’t been a universal definition of sustainable beef.” McDonald’s has therefore teamed up with the World Wildlife Fund, Cargill, JBS, and others to develop the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. The consortium “has drafted guiding principles and best practices for sustainable beef — a breakthrough for the beef industry, and for McDonald’s.”

It’s not entirely surprising that McDonald’s is being vocal about its newest efforts to go green, as the company has been addressing public concerns about beef for years. However, it is still a significant undertaking that may convince others to do the same.

Burger Business also notes that it makes marketing sense — of course — for McDonald’s to commit to sustainable beef purchasing, because room in the fast food industry is as tight as ever, and McDonald’s faces competition. The Illinois-based company has no choice but to follow suit in the sustainable beef trend if it wants to keep its head above water in this increasingly saturated market.

Studies also point out that consumers are usually willing to pay slightly more for beef that is steroid-free, so McDonald’s is hoping that its beef’s natural label will not only draw customers into stores but also keep them there. The company needs new ways to set itself apart from the competition, and it looks like it just found one.

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