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TheBeefSite Newsletter - 5 March 2014

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Wednesday 5th March 2014.
Michael Priestley - Editor

Michael Priestley

McDonald's Sustainable Beef Drive Meets Strong Opposition

Sceptical cattlemen will be ‘working hard’ to stop McDonald’s meeting its sustainable beef sourcing aspirations, the Australian Beef Association (ABA) has announced.

The producer body has joined multiple voices in calling for an end to the drive for verified sustainable beef.

A coordinated push for a reference on sustainable beef was headed up by the McDonald’s verified sustainability pledge in the New Year when Bob Langert committed to a 2016 sourcing date.

ABA President Brad Bellinger sees the announcement as a marketing campaign to pass extra cost onto producers at very little expense to McDonald’s.

Mr Bellinger snubbed McDonald’s impact on the Australian beef market, saying drought pressure leaves a greater impression on Australia’s beef herd dynamics.

He told TheBeefSite that an environmental module, to be attached to the existing Livestock Production Assurance element of the National Vendor Declaration form, would serve to justify McDonald’s sustainability claims.

He said: “Australia currently has among the lowest cattle prices in the world, the most profitable processors and a supermarket duopoly that controls over 50 per cent of beef retail sales,” he said.

“Although McDonalds are a minor player in volume with retail beef sale at 1.8-2 per cent, because they use trim from carcase they can have a big impact on supply demands.”

Going forward, his message to McDonald’s is that they should accept beef as it comes.

Meanwhile, farmers have been advised to ignore sustainability guarantees with processors.

He concluded: “I do believe there is a genuine threat that McDonalds will eventually source sustainable burgers only. However, we will be working hard to stop them.”

In response, the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB) – the organisation tasked with defining what constitutes ‘sustainable beef’ – has dismissed claims that sustainability will mean added costs for producers.

GRSB chief executive Ruaraidh Petre told TheBeefSite that initial adjustments may be needed on farms but sustainability means long term saving.

He said: “While part of the definition of sustainability is that it must pay for itself, for all partners, it is clear that upfront investment is often needed to bring about change.

“Accessing finance to support innovation needs to become an important part in the sustainability matrix,” he said. 

He insisted that sustainable beef means cost saving throughout the supply chain - not just for retailers.

The GRSB’s goal is to find a reference point for sustainable beef production across all systems and countries that yield beef products.

Describing what this could mean for the future, Mr Petre said: “The industry will be in a better position to demonstrate that through through good management, which many have always practised and through innovation, it is possible to produce, process and retail beef in ways that contribute to better livelihoods for the people throughout the value chain, welfare for cattle and to positive environmental outcomes, while meeting the needs of the global population for valuable protein sources.”

Further Reading

For more information on McDonald's sustainable beef pledge, click here.

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