John and Tracy Buckley, who raise cattle on a ranch near Cochrane, Alberta, are celebrating the completion of the McDonald’s Verified Sustainable Beef Pilot Project and their involvement with it.

The project has been hailed a complete success after the restaurant chain announced last week it had succeeded in demonstrating sustainable practices and outcomes can be verified through the entire Canada beef supply chain.  In doing so, the program became the first to make the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef principles and criteria across the entire beef value chain.

The Buckley’s are one of 121 ranches from across the country who took part in the project.  There were also 34 backgrounding operations, 24 feedlots, two beef processors and a patty plant that were verified as sustainable through the project.

The project tracked 9,000 head of cattle from ‘birth to burger’ (the equivalent of 2.4 million patties).

John tells Rural Roots Canada they learned a lot about tiny things they could do to make their operation for sustainable.

“Stuff that we have in our heads anyway, it’s just a matter of well do you have that written down? Well, no.  Well, if it’s written down it is a lot more easy for you to show someone who you have these practices or you have a process in place.  There was nothing that was out of the ordinary, it’s normal everyday stuff that we all do and they just really want to know about what we’re doing,” Buckley said.

McDonald’s Canada’s Senior Manager, Sustainability, Jeffrey Fitzpatrick-Stilwell says working with producers like the Buckley’s was one of the greatest experiences of his career.

“Just the range of people we’ve met and their real honest willingness to help us to make sure we’re going in the right direction they’ve certainly steered us out of a few ditches we’ve been in danger of going into and that’s really the approach we wanted to take,” said Fitzpatrick-Stilwell adding, “we wanted to be leaders.”

“We wanted to help accelerate the work that the Canadian industry was already doing, but recognizing that McDonald’s was not the experts in sustainability that the producers are and so while we were leading we were continuing to listen along the way.”

Matt Sutton-Vermeulen is a Senior Partner with the Prasino Group, they connect producers to processors to retailers and brands and NGO’s and make them sustainable on the food chain.

They worked on this project and several others with McDonald’s in the past.

The McDonald’s Verified Sustainable Beef pilot ended Wednesday, marking a major milestone of its collaborative partnership with the Canadian beef industry over the past 30 months to advance more sustainable beef practices. (CNW Group/McDonald's Canada)
The McDonald’s Verified Sustainable Beef pilot ended Wednesday, marking a major milestone of its collaborative partnership with the Canadian beef industry over the past 30 months to advance more sustainable beef practices. (CNW Group/McDonald’s Canada)

He says this whole process has been great.

“We had a fantastic time working with the producers here in Canada because of the leadership within the Canadian beef community wanted to be part of this pilot and brought projects, programs and tools that they had been building and had been put in place for many years and so we really appreciated that they were complimentary to the end in mind that we had and we got out in the field and worked with them,” Sutton-Vermeulen said.

Fitzpatrick-Stilwell says they have learned over the years that having a multi-stakeholder collaborative process really gets you the best outcome in the end.

“What McDonald’s likes to do is make sure we are leading that process we’re demonstrating leadership by putting resources and other efforts behind it that we want to be led by the people who are really living things everyday rather than coming in sort of from the ‘Ivory Tower’ and telling people we sat in a boardroom, we decided this and this and please help us deliver it.  It’s here’s where we want to get to, we want to talk to consumers about the positive story of Canadian beef production help us be able to tell this story, it’s really your story that we’re telling.

Sutton-Vermeulen says the collaborative effort really made this the success that it was.

“There were a lot of real critical thinkers out there, that helped us along the way, not by being easy on us and telling us we were doing the right things, but telling us where we were stepping on it and not doing it right and helping us fix it along the way because we are all learning together.”

John Buckley is quick to add he recommends this to all producers out there and is appreciative of the steps McDonald’s has done to support Canadian producers.

“Having a company like McDonald’s step forward and say we really need to move in this direction this is what we would like to acquire as far as product, how do we get there?  That to me was a very positive approach, it relates to the industry becoming more interdependent rather independent it’s been always said the industry is very independent thing because you have a number of producers doing what they do and not concerning themselves with what happens farther down the production system.”

“To me here’s a company that is serving the consumer on the other end of that production system that’s saying here’s the messages I’m getting and how can we get to this point, to this objective and to me that is very, very positive and a huge opportunity for our industry and our producers.”

(Above) Cochrane, AB area cattle producer John Buckley talks about the process of becoming verified during McDonald’s Verified Sustainable Beef Project and what he learned through the process.

(Above) McDonald’s Canada’s Senior Manager, Sustainability, Jeffrey Fitzpatrick-Stilwell talks about working with Canadian cattle producers on the McDonald’s Verified Sustainable Beef Project.