ONE of the world’s highest profile buyers of Australian beef last week went on-farm in Central Queensland to better understand the work being undertaken by producers to enhance the sustainability of their production systems.
McDonald’s Director Global Supply Chain for beef, Andrew Brazier, travelled to properties near Clarke Creek, Middlemount, and Calliope as part of a special tour to engage with suppliers and industry.
The tour, which also included a group of more than 20 other local industry stakeholders, incorporated a visit to Australian Beef Sustainability Framework’s Sustainability Steering Group member Melinee Leather’s family property Barfield Station near Banana, south-west of Rockhampton.
Mr Brazier, an Australian expatriate now based at McDonald’s headquarters in Chicago (see Kerry Loneragan’s Weekly Grill podcast interview posted Friday), said after three years of being unable to travel due to COVID, the experience was a valuable opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of how McDonald’s can collaborate with industry to strive towards continual improvement.
“McDonald’s has publicly facing goals to reduce impact and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, including a climate commitment of being net zero across our supply chains by 2050 and maintaining forests, and we see cattle and beef being an important part of the solution,” Mr Brazier said.
“We’ve not been in Australia for a little while, so it’s been good to see the unique way we raise cattle here, using very different approaches suited to local production conditions, and to understand the progress being made.
“We are really encouraged by initiatives like the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework because it gives us a chance to see, transparently, what industry’s focus areas are, what the metrics are around them and where there are opportunities to do better.”
To reach its climate goal, McDonald’s has adopted what Mr Brazier calls an “outcomes-based approach,” including:
- Promoting management practices that optimise productivity like genetics and nutrition
- Eliminating emissions due to beef-related deforestation
- Supporting GHG emissions reduction through development and scaling of methane mitigating additives and other evolving technologies
- Increasing carbon sequestration by promoting and scaling practices grounded in conservative grazing principles.
“Australia is a priority for us because it is such a critical sourcing region so, for example, it’s important we can be here to verify beef is not coming from areas of deforestation. We have these same requirements for our other supply chains like coffee, soy and fibre.”
Annual ‘shopping list’
In its 2021 Annual Shopping List released in November, McDonald’s reported it purchased more than 30,000 tonnes of Australian beef for use in 970 stores across the nation. Considerably more is exported for use in McDonald’s restaurants overseas. Australia is crucial to the supply of beef to around 39,000 McDonald’s restaurants in 109 nations. The size of the challenge in filling McDonald’s annual beef requirements is outlined in this earlier article.
Mr Brazier said the understanding McDonald’s has of its customers, and being able to communicate these insights to industry, was a powerful tool to help forge collaboration across the supply chain.
“What we can bring to the table is letting producers know what is happening at the consumer end of the Supply Chain and what people are telling us is that that they want to feel good about what they are eating,” he said.
“We don’t own cattle, we don’t own farms, so we need those that do to be able to tell their story – and we can help them amplify that – so it’s important we’re all rowing in the same direction.”
He said McDonald’s invests directly to advance sustainable beef production, including more than $1 million to help fund a study by Meat & Livestock Australia and Queensland University of Technology to find out whether time-controlled grazing can increase the level of carbon stored in soil and therefore reduce GHG emissions.
“We’ve invested tens of millions of dollars all over the world to help contribute to the sustainability of the beef industry,” Mr Brazier said.
“Every time we invest in these partnerships we understand a little bit more and do what I like to call ‘failing forward’, where we learn and we get better.
“Sustainability for us is a journey of continual improvement where we’re never going to get to the end destination, and nor should we, but we can always find ways to improve.
“We’re really invested in wanting to help farmers be resilient in all sorts of headwinds, because if we don’t have a resilient and sustainable farming community, we don’t have an original source of raw material for what we do, and that’s not good for anybody.”