BEEF Editors' Blog

Coalition Is Working To Realize The Opportunity In Sustainability


Consumer desire to know more about their food and where it comes from can help beef’s future.

Achieving sustainability requires the entire supply chain

Rather than go to all of this trouble of arriving at a wide-ranging consensus, some in the industry might argue: “If McDonald’s wants to sell sustainable beef, then why don’t they establish a program, pay a premium to get it, and satisfy their customers?”

For one thing, even though McDonald’s buys approximately 2% of all beef produced globally each year, they only purchase about 2%. Big as they are, they aren’t big enough to mandate.

Besides, Bob Langert, McDonald’s vice president of sustainability, explained to BEEF magazine in February, “We’re in the restaurant business. That’s what we know. We’re not in the cattle business. That’s what you know.”

Plus, Langert says McDonald’s believes sustainability should be mainstream, not a niche product defined and reserved for a handful of elitists.

Next, if the consumer wants it, like safety and affordability, sustainability becomes part of the new price of admission to participate. You can like it or hate it, but it doesn’t change the reality.

Finally, in my estimation at least, cattle and beef producers would miss a huge opportunity if they were excluded from the process or chose not to participate.

Obviously, there’s the practical production insight that would be missing. More important, though, would be ignoring the opportunity that goes with having allies with such consumer reach.

When’s the last time you thought of McDonald’s or Walmart as a customer? More important, when’s the last time you thought about McDonald’s as an ally?

That’s exactly what they are, though. As Langert told producers gathered for this year’s Cattlemen’s College in Nashville, TN, which was sponsored by Zoetis, “Beef is at the core of what we do past, present and future. We want the beef industry and McDonald’s to prosper as a result of ensuring that beef is sustainable long-term.”

Their success—selling more beef—depends on their suppliers—beef producers—remaining successful. McDonald’s understands that any definition of sustainability that makes business economically untenable for its suppliers means the same reality for their own company. For much of its history, a guiding McDonald’s philosophy has been: “We’ll be successful if our company does well, our owner-operators do well, and our suppliers do well.” The success of each is interdependent.

You can read more of McDonald’s views from Langert in the April issue of BEEF or online.

As mentioned earlier, economic viability is also recognized as a sustainability necessity by GRSB.

“We all need to do this in a way that is profitable and economic for our business model and for our suppliers’ business model,” Langert says. “Just thinking or saying you’re sustainable isn’t good enough; you have to have evidence points. It’s not just saying, ‘trust us,’ it’s proving it. Sustainability should be a mainstream part of our business and what we do.”


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Discuss this Blog Entry 6

James McGrann (not verified)
on Mar 5, 2014

Economic sustainability is a key question. The cow-calf and feed yard sectors are in decline meaning they are not sustainable.
Ranchers need to be measuring and reporting economic performance - sustainability!

on Mar 5, 2014

Excellent point, Dr. McGrann.

Burke (not verified)
on Mar 5, 2014

I agree with both. The word "sustainable" has come to mean whatever someone with an agenda wants it to mean. It should mean "ability to endure," "ability to last as far into the future as we can see," If an industry or a ranch is not profitable, it will not, cannot be sustainable. They must also be fun to operate. Sound ecology and sound economics go hand in hand. Problem is too many don't understand what either one of those looks like.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 6, 2014

Is it Sustainability or Perpetual Motion that they are looking for? Something is only sustainable as long as one has the passion to continue moving forward, continuing to innovate,and loving the challenge. As one ages, there needs to be someone to pickup and continue the effort, If not,that operation would not be sustainable. But probably would be sold and the new owner would have the passion and so on. Most operations only last a few generation and they change hands ,few, ever completely disappear. So one could say that the people of the atlas blizzard were not sustainable or the producers in California and the Midwest are not sustainable because of drought. The world may not be sustainable as that big asteroid is hurling ever closer. Again is it sustainability or perpetual motion. Why beef? Why not wheat? No bun, no burger, no loven' it. Hey McDonalds, Hey Wal-Mart your only sustainable as long as people want to buy your products. Maybe you should be looking at perpetual motion.

on Mar 8, 2014

almost sounds like big mac and others
want to control the beef industry

retired DVM (not verified)
on Mar 10, 2014

The bovine animal harvests grass which makes it more sustainable than their competition the vegetarians. Dairy cattle on the other hand are for the most part not out on pasture, so how does one knock out the major supplier of hamburger? Just odd thoughts.

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What's BEEF Editors' Blog?

Everyday musings from BEEF Editors on the latest beef industry news and events.


Burt Rutherford

Burt has more than 35 years of experience communicating about beef industry issues. A Colorado native and graduate of Colorado State University with a degree in agricultural journalism, he now works...

Wes Ishmael

Among the industry’s most insightful thinkers, Wes Ishmael concentrates on industry price and market perspectives for BEEF magazine. Along with his monthly “Cattle Economics” column...

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