Canada is on the leading edge of a verifiable sustainable beef program, according to a recently concluded initiative.
Helping drive the program forward was McDonald’s Canada, which spent the last several years working with a group called the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (CRSB). The company, and stakeholders with CRSB, including World Wildlife Fund, Loblaw, the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, Cargill and JBS Food Canada, concluded a pilot project Wednesday, June 1 in Calgary.
After 30 months of working with industry leaders, the program, dubbed the Verified Sustainable Beef Pilot Project, is the first of its kind that has a system in place that can trace and verify a sustainable system.
Why did McDonald’s choose Canada to develop the project considering there were several countries vying for the opportunity? For Jeffrey Fitzpatrick-Stilwell, senior manager of sustainability at McDonald’s Canada, the decision was a relatively easy one to make considering Canada already has many of the systems developed in the pilot in place.
He said there was clear investment and leadership within the Canadian beef industry that created a sense of confidence for McDonald’s. The company’s goal, says Fitzpatrick-Stilwell, was not to reinvent the wheel but to find out from industry leaders if there is a way to verify and track what many producers are already doing. The company helped speed up the process with some investment into research and working with producers.
From raw material supply to treatment of cattle to feeding the animals, there is a way to follow the paperwork. It helps that Alberta is home to Cargill, JBS Food in Brooks and it also helps that all of McDonald’s Canada burger patties are made in Spruce Grove.
The pilot project has drawn international curiosity. “There’s been a lot of eyes on Canada just because of this pilot project,” said Fitzpatrick-Stilwell.
Ponoka producer involved
The small town of Ponoka has had visits from top executives at McDonald’s, they were here to talk to cattle producer Greg Bowie. At the time the project started, Bowie was the president of the Alberta Beef Producers and he was, and is, closely involved.
He was one of the first to sign up for the verification pilot project and one of the first 20 producers verified with the sustainability project. During the early days of developing the system with CRSB, the project was still in flux. One of the benefits of having the CRSB work on the project is it has developed a verification system that is intended to create a global framework for producers.
He said it takes principles of social, environmental and economic sustainability and Canada was the ideal country to develop a verification process.
“There was a great willingness right from the beginning. With the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, with the beef producers — a number of the organizations in this country that deal with beef — to work with McDonald’s on this project,” said Bowie.
Developing a program involved veterinarians, nutritionists, animal rights groups, government officials as well as beef groups. This created the verification of the processes already in place. “We’re very fortunate that McDonald’s decided to use Canada because this is big.”
It puts Canada on the forefront of the process. “Canada’s always been a leader in beef production,” added Bowie.
More and more retailers are looking at ways to show their customers where the beef is coming from and what happens to it in the process. Bowie says this program under the CRSB will help consumers know the history of the cattle.
Looking at the numbers
Indeed, McDonald’s has been able to track 9,000 heads of cattle through the pilot. The Verified Sustainable Beef Pilot Project is also the first program to make the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef principles.
Now there are 182 operations, which includes ranchers, feedlots and two beef processors and a burger patty plant under the umbrella of the pilot project.