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Beyond the greenhouse gas emissions associated with raising cows and producing beef, other major environmental impacts include deforestation and land degradation for cattle grazing or feed; the contamination of water, air and other natural resources; and the energy and natural resources embedded in fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides for grain to feed cattle. The company has been addressing some public concerns about beef for years. In the late s, for example, it committed not to source beef from the Amazon biome.

Temple Grandin, a well-known expert on animal behavior, to develop animal welfare standards for cows, chickens and hogs — as well as a supplier-audit program.


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Those standards have been adopted by competitors and the broader retail food industry. To that end, the company recognizes that its future appetite for beef, as it is currently produced, is unsustainable in every sense of the word. For business reasons alone, it needed to lead the change. The company opened its doors to the EDF staffers, giving them access to confidential information and tours of its operations.

The group produced a long list of waste-reduction opportunities that during the s saved the company about million pounds of packaging, with no additional investment. WWF developed a Supply Risk Assessment, indicating the hotspots and likelihood of threats to the company. The effort validated what everyone already intuitively knew: Beef was at the top of the list.

Our approach is that if we can create a plan for sustainable beef production, we are at least giving people a choice and reducing the impacts of how beef is produced. Will it be the be-all, end-all of solving all the environmental challenges? How do we manage that? Suddenly, it was a central part of the equation. It buys finished, frozen patties from about 20 food processing companies globally.


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In the U. Cows and beef may change hands four or five times between farm and finished patties. They are the beginning of a value chain that includes ranches, dairy farms, cattle stockers, feedlots, beef packers and processors. There are also significant differences in how cows are raised among the major beef-producing regions, such as North America, Brazil, Europe and Australia-New Zealand.

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Most cows in the United States are grain fed for part of their lives, for example, while cows in Brazil, Europe and Australia-New Zealand live only on grass, hay and crop silage. Even within the U. The road to sustainable beef would require transforming not just a supply chain, but an industry. For example, roughly two-thirds of the U.

Transforming an industry likely will take more than just one giant burger chain. The company uses a small group of strategic suppliers that make up a significant part of its business — about 20 companies comprise two-thirds of its annual spend. Most of them do business with a handshake. A spokesperson for the brand said: Millions of Big Macs are sold in Sweden every year and the burger has a lot of fans. This is not the first time we see the food chain's presence in the fashion world.

Exclusive: Inside McDonald's quest for sustainable beef

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