McDonald’s Seeks to ‘Collaborate, Not Mandate’ Beef Sustainability

McDonald’s Seeks to ‘Collaborate, Not Mandate’ Beef Sustainability

The changing American consumer is causing some shifts at McDonald’s.

Earlier this month, the fast-food giant said it would move away from using chicken raised with specific types of antibiotics. It also began providing more details about its plan to use “verified sustainable beef” on its menu.

“Customers more than ever want to know where their food comes from, how it’s processed, what’s in it, and they expect companies--like McDonalds and others--to treat people with respect for the social part, the animal welfare part, and the environmental aspect,” explained Bob Langert, the recently retired vice president of sustainability at McDonald’s. “It’s really the triple bottom line of people, planet  and profit.”

Langert made his remarks on AgriTalk, where he and fellow guest Greg Henderson of Beef Today discussed the changes at McDonald’s.

“The consumer has evolved tremendously over the last five to 10 years,” asserted Langert, who worked for the company for more than three decades. “Ten years ago I would have said, ‘yes, they care about maybe price and quality and safety,’ but those things just don’t get us to the finish line anymore. More and more people care—and it’s broad-based, not just a fringe element anymore--about feeling good about the food they eat, where it comes from, how its produced, what’s put in it, how it’s processed. This is very mainstream.”

Listen to the conversation here:

Does this new emphasis on sustainability mean McDonald’s will be telling ranchers how to raise their cattle? “No,” said Langert. “I don’t think that would be a good way to do it, because we’re good at running restaurants, but not at raising beef.  … We’re in this to collaborate, not mandate.”

That approach could provide some reassurance to those in the industry who are worried about what these sustainability efforts might mean for their operations—and their financials.

“The beef industry should not be skeptical of what is going on here,” said Henderson of Beef Today. “McDonald’s is not anti-science. They are not anti-beef producer. They believe what we are doing is correct now, and they want to help us communicate that in fact we are doing things the right way.”

Could there be some changes? Sure. “What may be different in a sustainable beef world than we have now is we may be asked to support that with documentation that we did in fact treat our animals humanely, that we did give antibiotics and other drugs in the way they were intended,” Henderson added.  “I see nothing but positive.”

What do you think of McDonald's approach to sustainability? Their efforts (and Costco's) to phase out antibiotics in meat production? Let us know how you think consumers will respond--and whether these initiatives are realistic--on the AgWeb discussion boards. 

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