In the first in a series looking at how we can measure success in beef, we discuss why McDonald’s wants to help beef farmers address the ‘three Es’ of sustainability: economics; ethics; and environment.
For many, McDonald’s will mainly be known for its presence on high streets up and down the UK, but the business also plays an important role in the UK agriculture supply chain.
And it is a role it takes seriously.
Not only does it work with more than 16,000 British and Irish farmers to source beef for its UK menu, but it also wants to be proactive in helping these farmers produce beef more sustainably.
Since 2012, its Farm Forward programme has helped farmers tackle animal health and welfare, invest in the next generation and work to reduce carbon from beef production, all important sustainability challenges.
Peter Garbutt, agriculture manager for McDonald’s, says: “To serve great tasting food our customers love, we know we must help farmers run thriving, sustainable businesses, able to invest with confidence, protect the environment for the next generation and safeguard the welfare of animals and people in and around their businesses.”
The term ‘sustainability’ can be viewed as a buzzword, often bandied about the agricultural sector without a clear definition, but Mr Garbutt says farmers need not view the term as a threat.
“Farmers sometimes worry that sustainability will come as a cost to their business, but really it just means running a business which is not damaging the environment, looks after its animals and people, and is economically viable. It should be something all businesses aspire to.”
To encompass all of this and help define sustainability for individual businesses, McDonald’s encourages its farmer suppliers to look at their businesses in relation to the guiding principle of the ‘three Es:’ economics; ethics; and environment.
The Measuring Success in Beef series will look at issues which could have an impact on these ‘three Es’ and, therefore, the sustainability of a farming business.
Articles throughout this year will address the topics of animal health, use of antibiotics, soil health, grassland management and people.
Clare Hill, agricultural strategy manager with FAI Farms, with which McDonald’s collaborates on research and development projects, explains the importance of these areas to farming businesses: “A business should be economically viable, environmentally sound and ethically acceptable.”
Mrs Hill explains the economics and financial stability of a business will continue to be an issue for livestock producers going forward, especially in the light of Brexit.
Ethics covers animal welfare, but also people welfare, in terms of health and safety on farms and training and development for staff.
Environmental issues are of great importance, especially as we experience more variation in world climate.
Mrs Hill says: “The environmental consideration looks at issues such as the use of additional feed, and farmers in the future could well be questioned on whether they should be feeding bought-in cereals to animals when they potentially could be used for human consumption.
As another example, Mrs Hill says farmers using a lot of soya in a finishing ration might start to question where it is coming from.
She says: “If it became unavailable in the future, would you be able to carry on? And would your system still work?”
By looking at the different topic areas covered in this series going forward, Mrs Hill says farmers should be able to start a debate about whether their own businesses adhere to the ‘three Es’.
She says: “A business cannot be sustainable unless it covers off all of these and it is necessary to balance these three areas and understand the balance of them will change over time.
You might think you have this balance and what you are doing is sustainable.
And right now it might be, but in the longterm, issues and problems may arise which make the situation very different.”
For McDonald’s, beef is an iconic product, and Mr Garbutt says customers care where the product comes from, how it was farmed and who produced it.
He says: “By working with farmers to find out what sustainability means to their businesses, it not only helps them improve on areas they need to work on, but it also means we have a message about the work beef farmers are undertaking, which we can then communicate to our customers.”
As part of this message, McDonald’s aims to source a portion of its beef cattle by 2020 to principles recognised by the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. Mr Garbutt says McDonald’s is keen to help its farmers in the UK and Ireland achieve this goal, and to do so it is working with organisations such as the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform to find solutions to sustainability challenges in the beef supply chain. This follows initiatives including the McDonald’s sustainable beef clubs, where carbon footprinting and discussion groups were used over six years to help farms reduce their emissions, improve animal health and invest to increase productivity
Through Farm Forward, McDonald’s aims to work with farmers to:
The programme was established in 2012 based on farmer research and broadly mirrors the ‘three Es’. It is a guide for all McDonald’s does, from sustainable sourcing, to research and farmer engagement programmes.