Sustainable Agriculture & Beef
As the global population grows, we need to find ways to meet the demand for more food in increasingly sustainable ways. Given McDonald’s size and scale, we have an important role to play in that effort. We believe that our food can be produced in a way that protects the environment and contributes positively to a thriving global food system and we’ve made it a global priority to champion sustainability efforts across our supply chain, particularly in the areas where we believe we can have the largest impact.
We can’t talk about impact without talking about beef. More sustainable beef production provides McDonald’s with one of the greatest opportunities to address climate change and drive positive change in the global food system. As one of the world’s biggest buyers of beef, we are striving to make sure that its production contributes to a more sustainable food system in which people and communities, animals and the planet thrive.
We’ve worked alongside a diverse, global network of suppliers, farmers, ranchers, NGOs and scientists for many years. Through these efforts, we’ve collaborated with farmers and ranchers who have shown us it’s possible to produce beef in a way that protects and maintains native landscapes including grasslands, improves biodiversity and sequesters carbon in soils while supporting farmer livelihoods for the long term.
We approach sustainable agriculture holistically and consider our impact on the planet, the livelihoods of the people who produce our food, the communities in which they live and the well-being of the animals we rely on. We also want to help create positive impact, especially with beef farmers, in areas such as improving biodiversity, maintaining native grasslands and capturing carbon, as well as rebuilding soils.
We have identified seven priority impact areas for us to address through our goals: Climate change; Farmer livelihoods; Protecting water resources; Conserving forests; Reducing food and packaging waste; Respecting human rights; and Promoting the health and welfare of animals.
For beef, one primary area of focus is supporting the development of national multi-stakeholder beef sustainability programs. These programs emphasize practices that align with the global definition of beef sustainability outlined by the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB) Principles and Criteria, and we are rolling them out in 10 of our top beef sourcing countries globally: the U.S., Australia, Brazil, Germany, Ireland, France, New Zealand, Canada, the U.K. and Poland. Collectively, they represent approximately 85% of our global beef volumes.
We are committed to promoting sustainability programs across our top beef sourcing countries, taking sustainable farming practices to scale. To get there, we set 2020 goals, engaging key stakeholders across our supply chain and the industry to share best practices, develop sustainability programs and promote ethical farming standards. Working closely with farmers, ranchers and our suppliers, we support the development of industry resources to help measure, benchmark and demonstrate advancements in sustainability that add value to all of our businesses.
We are also committed to working with experts around the world to advance research to quantify the impacts and outcomes of sustainability practices to continuously improve and advance the science that will help solve the challenges we face. Using agricultural and scientific expertise, we’ll assess and validate the impact and benefits of these new practices and solutions. We’ll then identify and engage progressive farmers to trial the cutting-edge practices and help scale them up.
We will continue to work with farmers, ranchers, NGOs, scientists, industry groups and suppliers to collectively mitigate the impacts of beef production. Furthermore, we will build on the positive environmental and social outcomes that beef production provides.
Visit our Responsible Sourcing page to learn more about our holistic responsible sourcing strategy across priority commodities.
Collaborating With Stakeholders
By collaborating with suppliers, farmers and ranchers, as well as scientists and academics, we can identify, elevate and support practices that reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, optimize positive impacts, and support resilient farms and farmer livelihoods. That’s why McDonald’s co-founded the GRSB in 2011 – the multi-stakeholder initiative that brings together key players across the beef value chain to accelerate and continuously improve sustainability throughout the sector.
In 2014, the GRSB members, including McDonald’s collectively finalized the beef sustainability Principles and Criteria. They are now building on these to develop global goals that will guide the beef industry over the next decade to deliver measurable positive outcomes in terms of sustainability. The GRSB Principles and Criteria are intentionally high level to allow for national and regional groups to interpret them in a locally relevant way, given the significant variation in production systems, legal frameworks, socio-political factors and climates that exist across the globe.
The GRSB Principles and Criteria are focused on five core themes:
Manage natural resources responsibly.
Respect people and communities.
Care for the welfare of animals.
Ensure the safety and quality of beef.
Drive efficiency and innovation to reduce waste and improve economic viability.
To support the delivery of the GRSB Principles and Criteria at a national level, McDonald’s has helped set up various multi-stakeholder platforms in Canada, the U.S., New Zealand and Europe. We also participate in the consultation committee of the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework, while our Franchisee Arcos Dorados participates in the Brazilian Roundtable at a leadership level. We have worked with these multi-stakeholder platforms to support the interpretation of the GRSB Principles and Criteria at national and regional levels. We have supported our suppliers and other partners to establish, pilot and support programs to implement this national/regional interpretation with farmers and ranchers on the ground.
We sit on both the GRSB Board and Executive Committee, and are active across all GRSB Working Groups who are collaborating to advance the GRSB 2030 Strategic Plan (PDF – 798 KB) and set global goals for the GRSB network.
McDonald’s leadership in supporting the establishment of the GRSB in 2011 helped drive the definition of sustainability, development of principles and criteria, and the establishment of nearly 10 national and regional roundtables who share the same mission, vision and objectives as the GRSB. As a major player in the global beef network, their continued expertise and leadership through our Executive Committee and Working Groups is invaluable as the GRSB sets its new goals for the future and as the industry makes measurable progress towards them.
Tim Hardman, Director, Beef, World Wildlife Fund
In 2018, we became the world’s first restaurant company to set a science-based target to reduce GHG emissions related to McDonald’s restaurants, as well as reduce emissions intensity (per metric ton of food and packaging) across our supply chain. As beef is one of the top three contributors to the overall carbon footprint of our supply chain, we’re prioritizing development of our “Beef Climate Roadmap with input from our suppliers, NGOs, academics and other experts. We are in the process of developing product-specific roadmaps for meeting our Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) goals. We have also committed to publishing progress updates toward our 2030 goals annually through CDP and on our website in an effort to be transparent and accountable.
Based on our experience to date, we’ve identified four key drivers that will allow us to greatly reduce emissions intensity in our beef supply: Elevating farm management, Rebuilding soils, Conserving forests and Post-farm efficiency. Read more about how we are developing initiatives to reduce emissions related to these four key drivers.
Visit our Climate Action page to learn more about our climate commitment.
Policies and Standards
We have a Global Sustainable Sourcing Guide, which houses our requirements and guidance across key strategy areas. More specifically, McDonald’s has set and communicates clear responsible sourcing expectations with beef suppliers. In all countries where we source beef raw material, we have traceability from the abattoirs through the processing plant and to McDonald’s restaurants. We audit the processors that supply our beef annually and 100% of them pass our strict requirements for food safety. In many of these countries, traceability systems also exist to track further up the supply chain to the individual farms where animals are raised.
McDonald’s suppliers representing the majority of our food and packaging spend are asked to report to CDP on Climate Change and Forests efforts, including 100% of our globally managed beef, chicken, dairy and cheese suppliers. We regularly update this guidance and assess emerging risks across the supply chain.
We also have a specific antibiotics policy for beef that fits into our broader commitment to beef sustainability. Through this time-bound, actionable framework, and in collaboration with our suppliers, producers and farmer partners, we are committed to the responsible use of antibiotics in our beef supply chain in line with guidelines set out by the by the World Health Organization. Similar to many of our beef goals, this policy focuses on the top 10 beef sourcing countries. As a first step, McDonald’s committed to working with producers in the Company’s top 10 beef sourcing countries to measure and understand antibiotic usage across a diverse and global supply chain. Using what we have learned, we are working to establish market-specific reduction targets by the end of 2020. By 2022, we will be reporting progress toward our antibiotic reduction targets across all top 10 sourcing countries. Visit our Responsible Antibiotic Use page to learn more about our strategy.
Our Deforestation-Free Beef Procurement Policy was developed to ensure our Commitment on Forests is upheld throughout our beef supply chain. Visit our Conserving Forests page to learn more about our strategy.
Supporting the Sustainable Development Goals
Our beef sustainability work supports the UN Sustainable Development Goals, a global agenda to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all, in particular:
We are committed to help farmers leverage the power of peer influence to elevate, inspire and share beef sustainability best practices with one another. Our Flagship Farmers program helps to recognize producers who are leading the industry with pioneering sustainability practices. We’re proud to have identified and recognized Flagship Farmers across our 10 key beef sourcing regions. Through the program, we encourage peer-to-peer knowledge sharing that showcases farmers’ leading sustainability efforts and encourages wider adoption of these practices. The program offers an online resource for producers worldwide that celebrates innovative solutions around issues such as soil health, sustainable grazing techniques, animal welfare, biodiversity, ecosystem protection and GHG emissions.
Meet some of our Flagship Beef Farmers:
Gary and Sue Price
Lyle and Garnet Perman
New Tools to Tackle Deforestation in the Beef Supply Chain
As part of our global Commitment on Forests, we are working in regions with deforestation risks to verify that we source beef from farms that do not contribute to deforestation. We’re working with AgroTools, a Brazilian ag-tech company and certified B-Corp, and Proforest, a not-for-profit organization focused on responsible production and sourcing, to track the origin of all Brazilian beef used by McDonald’s restaurants. We first worked to determine risk level based on sourcing location, followed by further analysis at the farm level. Using a combination of cutting-edge technology, such as satellite imagery of the farm area and data analysis, along with utilizing industry-standard definitions from the Accountability Framework Initiative, we assess whether deforestation has happened at the farm level. This enables our suppliers to implement continuous improvement plans with farms in order to support deforestation-free supply chains. We’ve since expanded this project to include beef supplied from other high-priority regions and shared it through platforms, such as the Tropical Forest Alliance, to encourage wider adoption.
Latest Insights From Regenerative Farming Pilots
The positive environmental impacts of regenerative agricultural practices, such as improving biodiversity and capturing carbon, are demonstrable. We’re working on a number of activities in this area, including:
- Improving grazing techniques in the U.S.: We launched a partnership with The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research. We also committed to match up to $4.5 million in a research project with The ASU Foundation for A New American University. The research is analyzing the impact of Adaptive Multi-Paddock grazing practices, which mimic the natural grazing patterns of wild ruminants, against continuously grazed ranches across 10 ranches in southeastern US. This is helping us to identify what benefits the technique can have on the environment and farming communities, such as the potential to improve soil health, sequester more carbon, increase grassland biodiversity, and promote farmer livelihoods and animal welfare.
- Regenerative grazing in the U.K.: In Oxford, we’re working with FAI Farms on moving toward a regenerative grazing system. Focusing on activity in the soil below the ground, cattle are a vital part of the ecosystem on the farm, contributing to soil biology with the trampling of grass and addition of dung to feed microbes to create more and better soil. Healthy soil draws carbon out of the atmosphere, supports farm resilience in a changing climate and produces low-input beef. Qualitative and quantitative measures are being used to monitor progress, and learnings will be used to support and encourage others with the adoption of regenerative agriculture techniques.
- Investing in soil and biodiversity in Nebraska, U.S.: In collaboration with Cargill, The Nature Conservancy and Target, we’re supporting regenerative agriculture practices that help mitigate climate change and improve the resiliency of land, while also achieving other important environmental benefits for habitats and local water quality. This five-year project will impact 100,000 acres of land dedicated to corn production, through a joint $8.5 million investment, and has the potential to sequester 150,000 metric tons of carbon – equivalent to removing over 32,000 cars from the road in one year.
- Supporting the ranching community in the Northern Great Plains, U.S.: McDonald’s is proud to be partnering with Cargill, the Walmart Foundation and World Wildlife Fund in a five-year project to support ranchers implementing regenerative grazing practices across 1 million acres in the Northern Great Plains. The Ranch Systems and Viability Planning network will provide ranchers technical expertise, training and tools, including peer-to-peer learning, to implement regenerative cattle grazing practices. By improving these practices, we can enhance soil health and its ability to absorb further carbon from the atmosphere, ultimately reducing emissions, improving biodiversity and mitigating climate change. And that’s not all – these practices can also help ranches be more resilient and economically viable for the long term. This covers approximately 15% of McDonald’s U.S. cow-calf supply. By providing training and building rancher networks to support ongoing implementation and improvements, the project will reach over 1 million acres. McDonald’s will be investing a total of $1.6million over a five-year period (2020–2025) to the project, demonstrating commitment to climate action and support for the ranching community.
Developing Programs to Measure and Scale Sustainability
We want to work with our suppliers to pioneer new sustainability practices that relate to our Priority Impact Areas. In partnership with farmers and ranchers and other experts, we’re developing new approaches to beef production and helping scale them up – from an online environmental footprint calculator used by farmers in France, to an animal welfare and sustainability program that has reached 3,600 farms in Germany. These efforts directly contribute to our 2020 goals to accelerate industry progress and share knowledge and tools in our top beef sourcing countries.
- Improving industry standards in Poland: McDonald’s Poland and beef producer OSI Food Solutions have been working closely for over 15 years to assure that beef produced on Polish farms is safe, traceable and farmed to good standards of animal welfare. By working with the Polish Beef Sustainability Platform and the European Roundtable for Beef Sustainability (ERBS), this scheme has been strengthened further to help the Polish beef industry address the ERBS targets through a new sustainability platform called Cultivate.
- Incentivizing sustainability in Germany: At McDonald’s Germany, we’ve helped to develop the BEST Beef program. Since 2010, this has engaged the entire supply chain, including 3,600 farms to take important steps toward more sustainable beef production. In 2018, the program was revised to focus on improving animal health while keeping the administration of medication to a minimum, expanding the life span of cows, reducing CO2 emissions and ensuring animal-friendly husbandry practices – for example, by promoting modern loose housing and pasture grazing.
- An industry first for Canada: In July 2018, McDonald’s Canada became the first company in the country to serve Canadian beef from certified sustainable farms and ranches, beginning with its Angus lineup. In September 2020, McDonald’s Canada continued its beef sustainability journey with the addition of Quarter Pounder® patties. At least 30% of the beef used in McDonald’s Quarter Pounder burgers is from certified sustainable sources, according to the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CRSB) standards.1 The CRSB consists of a diverse group of stakeholders, including NGOs like the World Wildlife Fund U.S. and Nature Conservancy of Canada.
This achievement was made possible through the completion of McDonald’s Canada’s beef sustainability pilot project, and paved the way for the development of robust sustainability standards by the CRSB, which aligned with the Principles and Criteria for beef sustainability established by the GRSB in 2016. The third-party-audited assurance system is a locally relevant, outcomes-based initiative that recognizes sustainable practices in all parts of the supply chain, including ranchers, feedlot operators and packers. As a result, McDonald’s Canada has been able to purchase a portion of its beef from a fully verified sustainable supply chain.
- Reducing GHG emissions in France: We helped to establish project CAP’2ER, an environmental footprint calculator that evaluates the environmental impacts within beef farming, helping to identify where farmers can work to reduce their GHG emissions. To date, more than 20,000 assessments have been carried out and we have verified that 129,000 hectares of land is being managed to support biodiversity by French beef farmers who we source from.
- Beef sustainability in Ireland: Irish food board Bord Bia developed its Origin Green program, with the common goal of sustainable food production on a national scale. As a fellow board member of the ERBS, McDonald’s works in partnership with Bord Bia, including sourcing all our Irish beef from members of the Origin Green program. The Bord Bia Sustainable Beef and Lamb Assurance Scheme is a key part of the Origin Green Program, covering 34,000 farms and recognized by the ERBS.
Linking the Beef Value Chain in the U.S.
We want to accelerate industry progress, which is why we are committed to sourcing a portion of our beef from suppliers who participate in sustainability programs. McDonald’s partnered with participants from each production phase of the U.S. beef value chain to define, measure and improve practices used to raise, process and deliver quality beef to consumers. The two-year Integrity Beef Sustainability Pilot Project brought the different players together to test standards and methods of measuring sustainability and share data and best practices. The goals were to increase efficiency, improve management practices, self-assess and document sustainability efforts, explore third-party verification of sustainability claims, and evaluate a track-and-trace program across the chain.
The more than 1.2 million 100% fresh beef Quarter Pounder burgers* produced as part of the two-year pilot project were sold at McDonald’s restaurants throughout the Southeast U.S. While selling the hamburgers at McDonald’s may seem like the end of the beef supply chain, the Company’s desire to support the beef industry’s sustainability efforts and improve collaboration along the chain was the driving force at the start of the pilot project, which was supported by the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (USRSB). The pilot helped shape sustainability metrics set by the USRSB, as well as the development of the USRSB’s self-assessment tool, which is a concrete resource that others in the beef value chain can use to benchmark their performance and plan for continuous improvement. It also enabled McDonald’s to support the industry in accelerating adoption of sustainability best practices.
With beef hamburgers being the iconic part of the McDonald’s menu, we’re committed to supporting beef producers and supporting producer-level solutions. That’s why partnering with the Integrity Beef Alliance and the U.S. Roundtable is so important as we work toward our 2020 aspirational goals of accelerating industry progress and sharing knowledge and tools.
Townsend Bailey, McDonald’s Sustainability Director, North America
*Weight before cooking. Available at most restaurants in contiguous US. Not available in Alaska, Hawaii, and US Territories.
We have set beef sustainability goals that we aim to achieve by the end of 2020 and these goals apply to our top beef sourcing countries (the U.S., Australia, Germany, Brazil, Ireland, Canada, France, New Zealand, U.K. and Poland, which collectively represent more than 85% of our global beef volumes).
Goal 1: Accelerate Industry Progress
By the end of 2020, we will source a portion of our beef from suppliers participating in sustainability programs aligned with the Global Roundtable of Sustainable Beef (GRSB) Principles and Criteria and that meet McDonald’s requirements in 10 of our top beef sourcing countries globally.
We are sourcing beef from sustainability programs aligned with the GRSB principles and criteria and that meet McDonald’s requirements in three out of 10 of the beef sourcing countries in scope of the goal. Read about these initiatives in Brazil, Canada and the U.S. in the Our Actions section above.
Goal 2: Share Knowledge and Tools
By the end of 2020, engage with local farmers through farmer outreach projects to help develop and share best practices related to our Priority Impact Areas.
As of the July 2020, six of our top 10 beef sourcing countries are supporting or sponsoring beef producer sustainability groups, tools or programs that support the wider adoption of best practices or measure sustainability performance. Read about these initiatives in France, U.K., Ireland, the U.S., Canada and Germany in the Our Actions section above.
Goal 3: Promote Flagship Farmers
By the end of 2020, select and showcase McDonald’s Flagship Farmers to demonstrate leading best practices related to key sustainability impact areas.
As of July 2020, all of our top 10 beef sourcing countries have recognized one or more beef producers as Flagship Farmers to work with peers and share their industry-leading practices.
Read more about these leading farmers at the Flagship Farmers website.
Goal 4: Pioneer New Practices
By the end of 2020, set up McDonald’s Progressive Farm Partnerships to trial and discover new practices related to our Priority Impact Areas.
As of July 2020, five out of 10 of our top beef sourcing countries have established a pioneering research project to discover or validate new sustainability practices for beef farming related to our Priority Impact Areas.
These projects are in U.K., Ireland, Germany, the U.S. and Canada. Read about some of these initiatives in the Our Actions section above.
Goal 5: Conserve Forests
1 Scope: Supplier scope includes all McDonald’s suppliers of beef to the McDonald’s System and their raw material suppliers. McDonald’s requires all beef raw material sourced from high priority regions to be verified to meet the criteria outlined in McDonald’s Deforestation-Free Beef Procurement Policy. This applies to cattle procured from last farm or feedlot prior to slaughter which is traced back to Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina and Australia (countries currently designated as high-deforestation priority regions). Exclusions: Beef used as secondary ingredient in McDonald’s products, for example, as flavoring in a sauce.
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