By Jamie Rieger
A group of about 40 southern Alberta cattle producers met in Bow Island last Wednesday to learn more about a pilot project geared at advancing beef sustainability from the cow in the field to the finished product for one corporation that relies on the beef industry for a quality product for its consumers.
In November, 2014, a global conference on sustainable beef meeting was held in Toronto to define the principles and criteria for global sustainable beef production.
“At this meeting, they talked about selling sustainable beef and looked around the world in trying to define what verified sustainable beef is,” said Karen Haugen-Kozyra, president of Viresco Solutions, who started working with McDonald’s Corporation two years ago to assist in developing the project.
“If we don’t take care of the economics, the rest of it won’t work. There is so much happening with social media. For McDonald’s it was important to get ahead of the social action,” she said.
The Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef is a multi-stakeholder initiative that involves representation from throughout the beef industry and around the world. The GRSB principles and criteria are designed to offer a framework for sustainable beef production and would work toward a goal of continuous improvement.
“McDonald’s has a really good relationship with the industry. They came to us and gave us, the cattle industry, the opportunity to define our future. Sustainability is a global movement and we have got the opportunity to set a global standard rather than have it imposed on us,” said Bob Lowe, a Nanton-area cattle producer. “This is McDonald’s pilot project and I believe we are setting the standard for our industry. We’ve been doing it forever and have been doing it right. I believe we have to show the world what we are doing and be able to prove it.”
In June McDonald’s corporation announced its commitment to becoming more progress and partnering with the beef industry to advance sustainability practices, which include a number of indicators for cattle producers who choose to take part in the pilot project. Producers choosing to be part of the project would have their operations inspected and verified. The same would be done for participating feedlots.
“Canada was one of the first countries to come forward and was chosen as the place for the pilot project,” said Haugen-Kozyra. “The global roundtable defined the criteria based on five principles. On a global level, these criteria could apply wherever you are in the world. These are standards defined by the beef community for the beef community.”
Rick Friesen, from Alberta Beef Producers, said reiterated the importance of sustainability for the beef industry.
“This is such a big issue. and something that has been worked on for a couple of years now. They (McDonald’s) came to Alberta Beef Producers about getting a committee together and getting this information out to our local producers,” said Friesen.
In 2016, McDonalds will begin purchasing a portion of its beef from verified sustainable sources. At the time of last week’s meeting, hosted by Chuck and Nan McLean, 133 operations in Canada had signed onto the pilot project, with 31 verifications already complete.
“There is huge potential here. Right now, 40-60 percent of our beef goes out of the country, so the Number One thing for us is trade. In the future, the way beef will get to the table is through sustainability. It will be part of the whole process,” said Lowe.