McDonald's and Walmart Shot-callers Say Sustainable Beef Or Else

What's 'sustainable' will increasingly be defined by those influencing the McDonald's and Walmarts, not beef and other livestock producers.

Published on: Feb 12, 2014

At last week's Cattle Industry Convention and Trade Show, McDonald's Vice President of Corporate Sustainability spoke in urging terms of a partnership with the beef industry with a different view of sustainability – McDonald's. Bob Langert put it this way: "If we don't invest in sustainability, we're not going to have all the customers we want in the future."

However, in a March analysis for Farm Progress, retired Penn State University Beef Specialist Harold Harpster had a different take on what's ultimately driving big box beef buyers: "You'd have to be truly naïve to think we aren't steadily moving toward being told how we'll be permitted to produce livestock – beef, pork and poultry. This might not be so troubling if those directives were coming from those with real-world experience.

M-M-M GOOD? "Sustainable" sounds good. But no one knows how the industry can sink its teeth into it.
M-M-M GOOD? "Sustainable" sounds good. But no one knows how the industry can sink its teeth into it.

Those trying to call the shots have no firsthand knowledge of livestock production. And when those shot-callers have their own not-so-hidden agendas, it becomes much more troubling. This is the age of the Humane Society of the United States, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and consumer perception, says Harpster, a cow-calf producer in Centre County, Pa. Those with the most financial backing and most TV sound bites rule the day.

In response to that clamor, McDonald's put the beef industry on notice in early January that McD intends to put real teeth into dictating how beef they buy will be raised.

McDonald's beef plan
Here's "McDonald's Three-Part Plan for Sustainable Beef":
Our aspiration: A world in which all beef in our supply chain comes from verified sustainable sources.
• Support development of global principles and criteria in 2014.
• Develop targets for purchasing verified sustainable beef.
• Begin purchasing verified sustainable beef during 2016.

Our vision: McDonald's beef comes from farmers and processors who create economic value and nutritious protein through verifiable, diverse production systems that:
• Optimize cattle's impact within ecosystems and nutrient cycles;
• Positively impact lives of their employees and communities they operate in;
• Care for the welfare of the cattle throughout their lives.