By Brandy Harrison
WARKWORTH — With even fast-food junkies starting to take a second look at their Big Macs, McDonald’s wants beef from sustainable farms and is offering to pay farmers to prove they take care of their land and animals.
The fast food giant’s verified sustainable beef pilot project started sending third-party verifiers to farms for free last May with a 31-indicator scorecard covering everything from run-off management to drug and vaccine use.
As of Jan. 27, 86 farms — including two in Ontario — have already been verified. There are 98 more spots up for grabs but the deadline is March 15.
It could give the beef industry a competitive advantage, says Beef Farmers of Ontario producer relations manager Dan Ferguson.
“McDonald’s has upped our game. We need to keep up to speed on what consumers are expecting. All of the food service and retail sectors will be expecting these types of protocols to be followed,” says Ferguson, adding that many farms are likely already meeting the criteria.
McDonald’s, which buys 65 million lb. of Canadian beef annually to supply its 1,600 Canadian restaurants, will pass along lessons learned to the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef to create an industry-wide program, says Matt Sutton-Vermeulen, a senior partner at Prasino Group in Iowa, which is managing the project.
McDonald’s is letting farmers define sustainability, he says. “It’s not about saying this is sustainable and this is not,” Sutton-Vermeulen says, explaining that the verification process is outcome-based, not a list of practices farmers have to follow
The 31 indicators in five categories — natural resources, community and people, animal health and welfare, food and efficiency, and innovation — were developed over 14 months of consultations, approved by a scientific advisory board, and tested in the field before roll-out.
Through an interview and farm tour, a third-party scores farms on a five-point scale on a broad range of practices, including water and soil health management, pain and stress mitigation, food safety, and fertilizer use. Farmers are mailed a confidential benchmark report.
To participate, farmers must be registered or trained under the verified beef program and register with BIXS for animal tracking.
Sign up at www.vbspilot.ca, or contact Sutton-Vermeulen at 515-371-7914 or firstname.lastname@example.org.