Principles for Sustainable Beef Farming in Europe



The McDonald’s system purchases approximately 2.5% of all beef produced in the EU - from around 470,000 farms. For more than a decade, we have worked to establish a number of programs aimed at advancing the industry towards more sustainable practices. Our most recent achievement has been working with other key players in the European Beef Industry through the SAI Platform Beef Working Group to develop a sustainability benchmarking tool for existing farm assurance schemes across Europe – the SAI Platform’s Beef Farm Sustainability Assessment (FSA). It’s aligned with GRSB principles.

After early stage testing of the beef FSA with more than 90 farmers from all corners of our European supply chain, it’s now being launched through pilot programs in several European countries. McDonald’s is currently aligning its supply chain to lead and support these pilot programs across our biggest European beef markets. 



One of the countries involved in the pilot programs is Ireland. As one of the largest purchasers of Irish beef, McDonald’s works closely with Bord Bia (the Irish Food Board) on Origin Green - the only sustainability program in the world which operates on a national scale, uniting government, food producers and farmers. For Ireland’s beef producers, a key element of the Origin Green programme is the Bord Bia Beef & Lamb Quality Assurance Scheme. 

All of the Irish beef sourced by the McDonald’s system comes from Quality Assured farms. Some 49,000 farms, equating to 90% of Irish beef output, are currently certified under this scheme and audited every 18 months. Bord Bia have already made great progress on beef sustainability in Ireland, with farmers voluntarily providing data on key sustainability measures including greenhouse gas emissions to help improve the efficiency and carbon footprint of Irish farms. To date, over 117,000 carbon assessments have been conducted on Irish beef farms.

Ireland’s location on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean means it is an ideal place for grass-based beef production systems - two thirds of Ireland’s land is used for agriculture, 80% of which is devoted to grasslands. Because of this, one of the key focus areas at farm level is how to best make use of this valuable natural resource whilst preserving it for generations to come.


John Power

Board Bia certified beef producer and McDonald’s Flagship Farmer

“I’ve always taken great pride in saying that I would never sell anything from this farm that I wouldn’t consume myself – and I wouldn’t be unique in this. Sustainability to me on this farm means that I am getting the maximum amount of production off of every acre that I have here, and that our farming methods are as near to nature as they can possibly be.”

John is a McDonald’s Flagship Farmer and one of the farms that piloted the SAI Platform Farm Sustainability Assessment. Good grassland management is one of the sustainable practices featured in the SAI Platform Farm Sustainability Assessment. Learn more about his farm and the McDonald's Flagship Farm programme.




Between 2008 and 2014, McDonald’s UK engaged in one of the largest independent beef carbon footprint studies to date. Certified by The Carbon Trust, the study examined carbon reduction efforts on farms across the UK and Ireland. Undertaking 1,300 assessments and supporting farmers through a network of Sustainable Beef Clubs the study looked to improve sustainability and reduce carbon footprints on farm.  The results were dramatic. On average, the farms assessed each year reduced carbon emissions by 23% over the course of the study and also demonstrated that reducing carbon emissions went hand in hand with improving welfare, productivity and economic efficiency – a win for farmers, animals and the planet.

Read more about the study here.


Larry Nugent

Dundrum Farm, County Armagh, UK

“Participation in a McDonald’s Sustainable Beef Club and the realization that steps to minimize our impact on the environment would actually put more money in our pockets really made us sit up and take notice.”


Peter Mitchell

Purchasing Manager, OSI Food Solutions, U.K.

“We are committed to continually exploring ways to improve our sustainability impact. This means making sure we understand the impacts in our beef supply chain and working with our suppliers to help them minimize their carbon footprints, water use, and other impacts. Having an agreed set of principles for sustainable beef production goes a long way toward that goal.”


Stephen Hobbs

Farmer, Buckinghamshire, U.K.

Stephen Hobbs runs a family farm where he grows crops, maintains grassland, and rears a herd of 60 cattle. He was one of the first to use the free “What If?” tool to measure the carbon footprint of his beef enterprise, a tool developed on behalf of McDonald's UK. Measuring the carbon footprint of the beef enterprise is one of the sustainable practices featured in the SAI Platform Farm Sustainability Assessment for beef.

“I hadn’t really thought about my carbon emissions before, but learning about the tool and attending McDonald’s Sustainable Beef Club meetings has helped me see how I can produce beef in a more environmentally efficient way. I’ve really enjoyed using it – it’s a profitability predictor as much as a carbon footprint calculator.”



The German BEST beef program was developed with McDonald’s beef suppliers and partners from the agriculture and meat processing sectors as well as Weihenstephan-Triesdorf University of Applied Sciences in 2010. The aim of the program is to help McDonald’s maintain the high percentage of locally sourced beef – currently around 95 percent – and to promote a more sustainable approach to cattle farming in Germany. The practical bonus program rewards sound agricultural practices and improvements in animal health and welfare, including requirements around husbandry and lifecycle. So far over 2,700 farmers joined the program.



McDonald’s France collaborated with beef supplier Moy Park Beef and the French beef sector to develop a tool called Cap’2ER® for beef farmers to measure their impact on the environment (e.g. carbon emissions, water and biodiversity impacts) and define an action plan for continuous improvement. 

McDonald’s France and Moy Park Beef also worked with experts to develop another tool dedicated to animal welfare evaluation at farm level. 

By 2018, these 2 innovations should be used in all of French beef farms under contracts for McDonald’s France, impacting over 1,500 farmers and 35,000 cattle.