A Sustainable Big Mac? McDonald’s Moves in the Opposite Direction of the Dollar Menu

big mac

McDonald’s—the fast-food behemoth has made a Whopper  doozy of an announcement to kick off 2014: It’s going to start sourcing “verified sustainable beef.”

Beginning in 2016, the fast food restaurant chain will cash-in on partnerships in development since 2011, namely with the World Wildlife Fund and beef suppliers Cargill and JBS, to create a Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. According to the Huffington Post, “that consortium now has ‘drafted guiding principles and best practices for sustainable beef—a breakthrough for the beef industry, and for McDonald’s‘.”

McDonald’s sells about one billion pounds of beef a year just in the U.S. and making a shift to sustainable meat is no small task. But what exactly is “sustainable beef?” McDonald’s acknowledges this discrepancy on its website: “[T]here hasn’t been a universal definition of sustainable beef,” but it says it’s committed because “burgers remain some of our most iconic menu items.” The fast food giant known for cheap Dollar Menu items and recent labor disputes says, “[W]e want to do our part to improve environmental practices in the way beef is produced, support positive workplaces in the beef industry, and drive continuous improvement in animal health and welfare. Plus, we envision doing all of this while providing affordability and quality, along with economic viability for those who raise cattle and produce beef.”

And, notes the Huffington Post, “the beef supply chain is fragmented with ranchers, suppliers, slaughter houses and patty producers working independently,” which compounds the challenge for the nation’s largest burger joint. But the chain seems to have a plan in place: “its timetable is to support development of global principles and criteria in 2014; develop targets for purchasing verified sustainable beef; and finally to begin purchasing sustainable beef in 2016.”

Regardless of why McDonald’s is choosing the sustainable route—some speculate an ever-increasing competitive market as its main impetus—there’s a discussion to be had about our nation’s meat supply, even if it’s just with the person working the drive-thru window.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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Image:Phil Dragash