As McDonald’s Canada’s verified sustainable beef pilot project enters its final five months, organizers hope to engage more Manitoba producers in the verification process.
“I would love to have more Manitoba producers involved because, as I tell everyone in Alberta, yes, McDonald’s may be sourcing Alberta beef, but most of it was born in Manitoba,” said Jeffrey Fitzpatrick-Stilwell, manager of sustainability for McDonald’s Canada.
Fitzpatrick-Stilwell spoke to a group of beef producers in Holland on January 13 during Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development’s Beef and Forage Week seminar.
McDonald’s Canada’s pilot project aims to complete 220 full verifications by the end of the project. They have currently completed 79 and have an additional 15 scheduled.
“We are heavily represented from Alberta so we are really hoping to get a few more Manitoba cow-calf operators through this process so we have a better national perspective,” said Fitzpatrick-Stilwell.
McDonald’s Canada currently sources 100 per cent Canadian beef, and two years ago made the commitment to begin sourcing a portion of its global supply from sustainable sources in 2016, which is what has driven this project.
“If we are going to be praised for what we source from you, I think that we have an obligation to start doing a better job telling your story to our three million customers and that is what the beef pilot project is about,” said Fitzpatrick-Stilwell.
“I am not here to say that McDonald’s knows what sustainable beef production is, we don’t. The only expertise that we have is selling to consumers. This is where we need producers to tell us what sustainable beef production is, why you are sustainable and help us understand what you do for natural resources, conservation, animal health and welfare.”
Fitzpatrick-Stilwell says the verification process involves a farm visit and touring verifiers around the operation while the producer explains his or her processes.
Verifiers work through an indicator checklist that is broken down into five categories — natural resources, people and communities, animal health and welfare, food safety and efficiencies and innovations.
“This is verification not certification. Certification is really about policing to an existing standard and is often a pass or fail situation. That is not what we want to do here. We want to recognize those who are doing a good job of producing beef sustainably,” said Fitzpatrick-Stilwell.
Betty Green, a cattle producer from the Interlake region, recently participated in the pilot project and says she was motivated to participate because she believes it is necessary to begin engaging with confused consumers.
“I think as producers we have all seen the media portal of what we are doing in a rather negative light and we can hope that it goes away but I don’t believe it’s going to. So, from my perspective and for our ranch, I needed to get involved,” said Green.
Green says she was given a copy of the indicators prior to McDonald’s verifier’s farm visit and that many of the questions were open ended.
“What I learned from this process is that we as farmers are not very good at talking about what we’ve done,” said Green. “We need to stop and think back to where we started and where we are today. If we do that and start sharing that information, people will realize what a tremendous contribution we make to industry improvement.
“Not a year goes by that my husband isn’t trying something new on our operation. He evaluates the results and either incorporates that or uses it to determine what his next experiment will be. And, we are all like that, but we don’t take enough credit.”
Green says the pilot project’s farm visit took approximately four or five hours but notes that it really depends on how much detail you want to provide. Following the farm visit Green received a copy of the indicator outcomes.
Fitzpatrick-Stilwell points out that this project is a great way for producers to acquire an unbiased professional view of their operation and an industry benchmark at no cost.
Green agrees, saying that she found the feedback she received to be beneficial.
“I would encourage you to take part in this because what I learned was really valuable. I got a benchmark of where we are through someone else’s eyes,” said Green. “I think it will also help me in all of those discussions that I have with those who may not understand what we do. It certainly opened my eyes to how others see things and how we may need to see their perspective before we start defending what we do.”
The pilot project is scheduled to be complete in the next five months, at which point McDonald’s Canada will turn the gathered information over to the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef.
“McDonald’s commitment is to source beef sustainably by the standards of the roundtable, not by this pilot or our own set of standards. We want this to be the standards the industry has agreed upon and therefore this is just the initial step we have taken to contribute to the roundtable’s overarching goal.”
For more information on the pilot project visit, vsbpilot.ca.