The fast-food giant this week unveiled a multiyear plan to begin sourcing "verified sustainable beef" by 2016. For a corporation as massive as McDonald’s, whose 34,000 outlets account for 2 percent of the total beef and dairy industry, this is obviously unprecedented, and the announcement lands at a time when skepticism is high over the chain’s health claims and tone-deaf employee support portal. While McDonald’s says its goal is to "begin purchasing verified sustainable beef during 2016," it offers no time frame for when the company might reach an eventual goal of 100 percent sustainable meat, because no one, McDonald’s included, knows what "sustainable" even means just yet.
"This sounds simple," the company notes, "but it’s actually a big challenge because there hasn’t been a universal definition of sustainable beef." So, as part of a group called Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, which got together in 2011 and counts, appropriately, Walmart, Cargill, Merck, and the World Wildlife Foundation as members, McDonald’s is trying to develop criteria for the term. GreenBiz.com reports that those criteria, whatever dimensions they may eventually take, will be available for public comment in March, in advance of a planned release later this year. Out of the dozens of possible focal issues within the fast-food company’s food system, including regional economies, greenhouse-gas emissions, antibiotic use, humane conditions, dietary concerns, and transportation, it remains unclear which will emerge as priorities in McDonald’s "sustainable" new future.
Our Journey to Sustainable Beef [McDonald’s]
Exclusive: Inside McDonald’s quest for sustainable beef [Green Biz]
Related: Wouldn’t It Make More Sense for McDonald’s to Stop Pretending It Sells Healthy Food?