Crop sector needs industry-wide sustainability plan

McDonald’s official says new strategies to ease consumer concerns will come from industry roundtables

BANFF, Alta. — Proving that farm production is sustainable will become unavoidable in the future, says McDonald’s Canada.

As a result, now is the time to start working on sustainability initiatives, said Jeffrey Fitzpatrick-Stilwell, the fast food company’s sustainability manager.

“If you’re here in this room and you’re with an organization and you’re not in the room with the crops (sustainability) roundtable, I’m telling you that’s a miss for your organization,” he told the Canola Council of Canada annual meeting March 2.

“This is where you can be engaged and make sure that your voice is heard and that you are helping shape the direction.”

Fitzpatrick-Stilwell was speaking about both the crops industry sustainability initiative and the beef industry initiative.

McDonald’s is part of a beef sustainability process that begins operating on a handful of farms this week as part of the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Beef.

The process is an attempt to prove that Canadian beef is produced in a way that does not damage the environment and society.

A similar process is being undertaken by the crops industry with the Canadian Roundtable for Sustainable Crops. McDonald’s and other food companies are major buyers of vegetable oils, cereal grains and vegetables.

Fitzpatrick-Stilwell said there is growing pressure from consumers to provide assurance that the food they are eating is produced in sustainable ways.

McDonald’s is doing that by encouraging and supporting industry-wide initiatives that involve the entire supply chain, from farm to plate.

The company believes such an approach will have a high chance of success if it is developed by leading elements of the industries that understand and know the commodity.

Fitzpatrick-Stilwell said McDonald’s wants standards that are outcome based rather than methods based because producers may have a number of ways to produce sustainable products.

As well, McDonald’s doesn’t want a company specific sustainability system.

Instead, it wants sustainability to be “pre-competitive,” a way to make the overall commodity sustainable for everyone rather than something it can use as a marketing edge.

“We will sacrifice an opportunity to gain some additional market share if it would negatively impact collaboration and multi-stakeholder things because what we’re doing in sustainability isn’t a marketing thing for today,” said Fitzpatrick-Stilwell.

“We really are committed to wanting the beef industry and the crops industry to be sustainable for the long term.”

Canadian Canola Growers Association president Brett Halstead challenged Fitzpatrick-Stilwell on the costs of increasing the focus on proving sustainability.

“Who’s going to pay for all of this?” said Halstead.

“I don’t want to spend any of my time, none of it at all, doing any extra paperwork. If I have to do it, I want to be paid for it. I don’t want a discount. I want to be paid for it in advance.”

Fitzpatrick-Stilwell said McDonald’s approach is to support industry efforts that include farmers so that any system it embraces works for producers.

However, he said the consumer trend is to require assurance that food products are made in a sustainable manner, so being willing to prove that is going to become inevitable for both his company and farmers.

“Our commitment is to eventually source everything from verified, sustainable sources,” said Fitzpatrick-Stilwell.

“Eventually, to be able to sell to big customers, that is going to be a requirement.”

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