McDonald's, Unilever back sustainable beef guidelines

Beef production may be regarded as one of the most carbon intensive forms of food production, but the food and agricultural industry now has published a new set of guidelines designed to significantly reduce the environmental impact of the sector.

The Sustainable Agriculture Initiative, which brings together over 50 high profile food and agri-business companies, including the likes of McDonald's, Nestle and Unilever, last week released the new Principles for Sustainable Beef Farming, offering a set of standardized guidelines to help beef farmers minimize their environmental footprint.

The principles set out 39 specific guidelines [PDF] covering sustainable farming systems, economic sustainability, social sustainability and economic sustainability. For example, the principles commit farmers to tracing individual animals and feedstocks, developing a sustainability strategy, and embracing best practices to minimize water use, soil erosion, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

Keith Kenny, senior director for supply chain at McDonald's Europe, said the principles would help to accelerate the rollout of best practices across the industry.

"More than a decade ago we introduced our McDonald's Agricultural Assurance Programme (MAAP) which has been helping drive higher standards in our Supply Chain," he said in a statement. "However, to date there has been no widely agreed definition of what sustainable beef looks like. SAI Platform has successfully brought together producers and processors from across the supply chain, along with key retailers as knowledge exchange partners, to establish a set of Principles for Sustainable Beef Farming that we can all support."

He added that the group would begin work on a new set of Sustainable Beef Farming Practices "to help farmers meet those Principles in a practical way and then widely promote and support their adoption."

His comments were echoed by Estelle Rabourdin, director of quality and environment at McKey Food Service, who said the new principles would help shape the company's work with farmers.

"The Principles for Sustainable Beef Farming will help us to identify and share sustainable practices with farmers," she said. "Cattle production has a large variety of farming methods and the Principles are especially valuable as they allow us to adapt to the variety of methods used."

Image of free range cows by Richard Thornton via Shutterstock