A representative of McDonald's restaurants told a recent conference in Olds that the company's pilot project to ensure the beef it obtains is sustainably raised is just about over.
In a speech at the Pomeroy Inn & Suites, Jeffrey Fitzpatrick-Stillwell, senior manager of sustainability for McDonald's, said the project began two years ago.
McDonald's worked with groups like the Canadian Cattlemen's Association, Alberta Beef Producers, Alberta Cattle Feeders and other industry experts to come up a system to verify that the beef they buy is raised in a humane and environmentally sustainable way, yet still is profitable for producers.
This month, that information is being shared with the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef.
Then, on June 1, a celebration of certification and workshop on the system will be held in Calgary.
During an interview with the Gazette, Fitzpatrick-Stillwell admitted the verification process has a long way to go.
He said in Canada, McDonald's obtains 100 per cent of its beef from about 69,500 Canadian beef producers. By this month, it was hoped the verification process would be able to verify 180 producers in this country are raising their animals in a “sustainable” manner.
“We're at the very beginning stages of this,” Fitzpatrick-Stillwell said in an approximately 35-minute speech.
He pointed out some families reached “may decide it's not for them.”
Fitzpatrick-Stillwell said the drive to create the verifiable, sustainably raised beef came from consumers.
He said today, those consumers want more information on what they're eating. They want to be sure any animals involved have been raised and slaughtered humanely and that the environment has not been harmed during that process.
“It's the ‘in me' that's really important to people these days and it's the thing that they're getting more and more inquisitive about,” Fitzpatrick-Stillwell said.
He said a big factor in this is that nowadays, the vast majority of Canadians – especially those in big cities – did not grow up on or near a farm, and thus have no idea about farms and how they're operated.
“They didn't grow up on a farm. They may never be on a farm in their whole life, but they're starting to make value judgments about what people on the farm do, and that's starting to drive things up through the supply chain and starting to impact what we're selling and how we're selling to people,” Fitzpatrick-Stillwell said.
“That's impacting agriculture producers' social licence to operate. But it's really about impacting the way you manage your business, the way you do what you've done for generations.
“People now who never had a say in the same way they do now, largely through some of the social media. It's really happening in a different level and it's moving much faster than it has before.
“So we have to be responsive to consumers; we have to respond to the growing interest that they have, whether it's from the nutrition side, whether it's from other things that they're concerned about: hormones, antibiotics; whatever it is, we have to be responsive to that.
“This is the balance we're trying to strike all the time, doing that in a responsible way, a responsive way, so we're not alienating either side of that value chain, and playing a responsible role through it.”
Fitzpatrick-Stillwell said he too knows little about farming.
“On both sides of my family, it's great-grandparents who were last on the farm. So I'm a perfect example of someone who grew up with no concept of what farming was, no concept of the realities,” he said.
He said McDonald's is acting now because in a very short time, millennials will be the dominant force in the market.
“They're going to be the ones making decisions for themselves and their families. And that goes back to that ‘in-me' concept,” he said.
“We can't wait 14, 15 years and then engage with them. By that time, their preconceptions, their ways of doing things, things they put into their personal belief system, are going to be set.
“We will not be able to impact them at that point, because it'll just become a part of what they believe, of what they know. So really now is the time to engage with them, now is the time to be open with them, get their questions transparently, honestly. That's again what we're trying to do with the beef pilot.”