By Sam Lewis
GRSB’s upcoming definition of “sustainable beef” will answer more than “Where’s the beef?”
On Tuesday, Jan 7, McDonald’s announced its plans to begin purchasing only “verified sustainable” beef within the next two years. However, before the fast-food chain can do this, it must first figure out what “sustainable beef” means exactly.
Currently, there is no formal definition of what “sustainable beef” entails. In hopes of creating a definition for the phrase, McDonald’s and other major stakeholders in the food industry have formed the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB). Included in the GSRB are retailers like Walmart, Darden Restaurants, along with environmental groups and beef industry suppliers. This group’s upcoming decisions are likely to have a big, but still unclear, impact upon the food industry. “The direction by the GRSB will impact the entire beef industry, not just McDonald's,” says McDonald's spokesperson Jon Rump. “We are optimistic and confident that the criteria will meet the needs of all stakeholders, including McDonald's.”
As of writing, McDonald’s stance on sustainable shows changes that will demand production cycles improve the welfare of cattle, the cattle industry’s employees, and “optimize cattle's impact within ecosystems and nutrient cycles.” McDonald’s began working on sustainable beef initiatives back in 2011, with hopes of developing principles and criteria for it in 2014. If all goes according to plan, in 2016 McDonald’s will begin purchasing only “verified sustainable” beef. However, the beef supply chain is composed of many independent entities. Creating a complete and detailed definition for sustainability will take time and teamwork.
While the GRSB's idea of “sustainable beef” remains ambiguous, so do the effects the decisions made by the group will have on the industry. “Where the beef will come from and where it will be sold is part of the work in progress,” says Rump. “Traceability will likely be a key part of the standards outlined by the Global Roundtable for GRSB. Some areas of the world are more advanced when it comes to traceability capabilities and it is likely that our first purchases will come from one of those areas.” The GSRB has announced March 1 as the public release date of its “Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Beef.”
With prestigious contributors forming the GRSB, the shift toward sustainable beef will have effects on everyone from the environmentally-conscious consumer all the way to the top of the food industry. No longer will fast-food chains be able to hide behind labeling claims like “raised responsibly” or “made with fresh ingredients.” But with McDonald’s being a key player in determining what “sustainable beef” is, the question remains: will the rest of the food industry be able to adjust accordingly?
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