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McDonald’s commits to continued sustainable beef conversation

McDonald’s Canada is now working with Canadian Roundtable 
for Sustainable Beef to create a single national standard

McDonald’s Canada is doubling-down on its strategy of meeting sustainability goals by working with the beef industry.

With a recent pilot project on sustainable beef that partnered with the industry groups and experts that demonstrated and verified the sustainability of the Canadian beef supply wrapped up, it’s looking to build on that base.

The key focus will be working with and assisting the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CRSB) in developing an industry-wide framework.

Jeffery Fitzpatrick-Stilwell, senior manager 
of sustainability for McDonald’s Canada.

Jeffery Fitzpatrick-Stilwell, senior manager 
of sustainability for McDonald’s Canada.
photo: Jennifer Paige

“What the CRSB is developing is not a pilot. It is a formal framework, so developing the rigour that is necessary for everyone will be difficult. We can’t create sustainable and unsustainable universes, and so, getting that mix where the standards are high enough but still achievable will be the biggest challenge,” said Jeffery Fitzpatrick-Stilwell, senior manager of sustainability for McDonald’s Canada.

When McDonald’s Canada kicked off its verified sustainable beef pilot project in January 2014, the newly established CRSB worked with McDonald’s Canada to develop indicators for its pilot, which included environmental stewardship, animal health and welfare and food safety factors.

In return, McDonald’s agreed to share the pilot’s end results with the CRSB to aid it in the endeavour of creating framework for a national standard that will cover the entire supply chain.

“Without a doubt this has been a very constructive exercise,” said CRSB chair, Cherie Copithorne-Barnes. “And, we are excited to be in a position to carry this work forward.”

Pilot outcomes

With the pilot concluding in June, many may wonder, what did McDonald’s learn during the project and what kind of information is it handing off to the CRSB?

“With the pilot project we wanted to bring the global roundtables’ principals and criteria to life for the first time in a locally relevant way,” Fitzpatrick-Stilwell said. “We had a total of 8,967 head of cattle that we were able to track all the way through from birth to burger.”

Over the pilot’s 2.5-year duration, from January 2014 to April 2016, McDonald’s completed 183 verifications across the country.

“We really focused on achieving diversity. So we wanted diversity in geography, diversity of size. The smallest cow-calf producer had 12 head and the largest was more than 7,000. The smallest feedlot we did was 560 and the largest was over 65,000,” Fitzpatrick-Stilwell said.

The pilot examined every part of the supply chain from cow-calf to backgrounding through the feedlot, through processing and to the facility that makes all of the burgers for McDonald’s facilities across Canada.

Fitzpatrick-Stilwell says the cow-calf sector was the area with the most opportunity for improvement with the most common issues being information sharing and having adequate documentation for pharmaceuticals.

“Producers in Canada are so advanced and on top of so many things. The biggest area of improvement really comes down to having more accurate documentation about what they are doing,” Fitzpatrick-Stilwell said.

While many producers document procedures and animal health details, Fitzpatrick-Stilwell says it is more about improving the documentation about how you will deal with different issues that may come up.

“Especially in small operations, everyone who is on the farm knows the procedures, but if you haven’t documented it in some kind of a way, the verifier has a hard time verifying that it is a standard operating procedure,” Fitzpatrick-Stilwell said.

He adds that having documented standard operating procedures is also something that can put your farm in a better state of preparedness to move forward and maintain animal care if an incident should occur where the farm lead is no longer available.

National standard

Fitzpatrick-Stilwell says one of the biggest things the CRSB can learn from the McDonald’s pilot is to have a conversation, not a checklist.

“The pilot wasn’t set up as an audit. It wasn’t a pass or fail, it wasn’t following a descriptive list of criteria that someone dreamed up and said this is what sustainable beef looks like,” said Fitzpatrick-Stilwell. “It was a conversation, looking at outcomes and then compiling a report saying yes, they are doing these things and we can verify it. I think that is one of the things the CRSB can learn from us is that it will need to focus on outcomes as well.”

The CRSB is currently in the process of working with stakeholders to develop the verification framework, which is slated to be finalized in late 2017.

“The McDonald’s pilot highlighted the value to testing the verification framework in an iterative manner,” said Fawn Jackson, executive director of CRSB. “The pilot accelerated CRSB’s progress in developing a beef sustainability framework by testing and sharing important learnings about framework management, participant enrolment, indicator development, scoring and performance levels, verification/assurance processes, chain of custody and information sharing.”

Producers who were involved in McDonald’s pilot will not have to go through the verification process again. McDonald’s and CRSB will be working together to integrate existing verifications into the new system.

Over the next while, the CRSB will be working with its membership to trial the new framework.

A claims guide will also be explored for the possibility of product labelling for products sourced from a verified sustainable source.

Anyone interested in becoming verified during the CRSB’s trial period, can visit the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef website.

About the author

Reporter

Jennifer Paige is a reporter centred in southwestern Manitoba. She previously wrote for the agriculture-based magazine publisher, Issues Ink and was the sole-reporter at the Minnedosa Tribune for two years prior to joining the Manitoba Co-operator.

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