Interview: The big mac

McDonald’s is prime not only for Irish agriculture, but for our economy. It operates 84 restaurants in Ireland and is the third-largest multinational employer here, with more than 4,200 employees.

It also has a number of significant supplier deals with Irish companies, including a €300m beef contract with Dawn Meats, an agreement with Ballygowan Natural Mineral Water for its exclusive bottled water supplier and a supplier deal with Tipperary-based bacon producer Dew Valley to name but a few.

AgriLand caught up with senior director Keith Kenny earlier this year, the driving force of the McDonald’s supply chain in Europe. Here is a re-cap. 

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“Irish beef is very important for us and a very important part of the European supply chain. Ireland is a big supplier for McDonald’s, not just for the Irish market but for across Europe. We use about 10 per cent of all Irish beef exports, which is significant,” explained senior director Keith Kenny, the driving force of the McDonald’s supply chain in Europe.

“McDonald’s also works very closely with its suppliers in Ireland and Bord Bia in particular in driving  sustainable beef principles.”

This week the European-wide beef Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) launched key beef sustainability principles, where key stakeholders McDonald’s and Irish suppliers are leading the way.

“Beef is the most iconic item on our menu, so sourcing beef sustainably has long been a priority for our business,” Kenny stressed.

“We need to have sustainable beef suppliers or we won’t have the Big Mac or quarter pounder with cheese in our outlets,” he said matter-of-factly.

Speaking to Agriland he said: “We have profiled many Irish farmers in our supply chain who are doing a fantastic job in beef sustainability, using great innovation.”

Pressed on the definition of sustainability in simple words, the director replied, “the preserving of resources for continued supply in the future”.

He elaborated: “More than a decade ago we introduced our McDonald’s Agricultural Assurance Programme that has been helping drive higher standards in our supply chain.”

He acknowledged that to date there has been no widely agreed definition of what sustainable beef looks like and McDonald’s aim is to change that.

“The SAI platform has now 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.

“This is a significant achievement and the new principles will be instrumental in aligning actions and accelerating progress towards a more sustainable beef supply chain. The next step is to develop a set of sustainable beef farming practices to help farmers meet those principles in a practical way and then widely promote and support their adoption. At the same time we are also aligning our work with the global roundtable for sustainable beef.”

In terms of marketing sustainable beef, Kenny stressed that the multinational restaurant chain now has a more focused approach on agriculture and farm to fork.

“People are more interested in the providence of food, from the animal to what arrives on the plate, and how that animal arrives on your plate. There are great opportunities to do a lot more in that regard.”

In terms of social media, the director noted this audience was key to its business. “We do use all forms of communication, but with social media especially for the younger market that is our core customer, and is therefore very important.”

The SAI principles for sustainable beef farming are available to download here.

McDonald’s case study: Beef – Dempsey Farm, Ireland

Dempsey Farm is an efficient and economically successful business that demonstrates high standards in animal welfare and environmental performance. This case study shows how beef production in today’s Irish climate can be undertaken in an economically viable manner, whilst maintaining the welfare of the animals and controlling the impact on the environment. In particular it highlights good practice in animal welfare, waste management and species conservation.

According to Ray Dempsey: “We feel privileged that Dawn Meats nominated our farm; and to be selected by McDonald’s to participate in their Flagship Farm Project is an honour. There is also a personal sense of achievement as over the years we have worked hard in our farming business to achieve and maintain a good standard of beef production, recognising the requirements of the consumer and their expectations of traceability and animal welfare.”

The key initiatives undertaken by Dempsey Farm can be summarised as follows:

All cattle are reared under the requirements of The Beef Quality Assurance Scheme. The farm agrees to abide by a code of practice covering issues such as stockmanship, welfare, nutrition, use of veterinary medicines, animal traceability and environmental controls. This is independently audited by Bord Bia.

The farm is a member of the Rural Environmental Protection Scheme, which encourages simple and effective environmental management on the farm.

Rubber slat covers have been fitted into the winter housing of finishing cattle to improve welfare conditions. Despite initial outlay costs, the improved conditions result in increased growth rates and finishing weights, delivering increased financial returns to the farm.

Straw bedded calving pens and calf creep areas are provided during the winter housing. This improves comfort and animal health.

Good handling facilities allow routine health checks to be undertaken in a timely and cost–effective manner, with reduced incidence of worker and animal injury.

Soil testing is conducted in grassland to improve fertiliser use and efficiency, and clover is grown to reduce the requirement of nitrogen applications.

A 15,750 litre concrete tank has been installed to capture the rain water falling on the roof of the cow shed. The system will capture in the region of 200,000 litres of water and save €472 per year.

A reed bed has been established on the farm to clean the water which runs off of the farm’s concrete yards. Yard water run–off is diverted through a reed bed which filters out any pollution prior to release into the local river. The system harnesses natural processes; ensuring that water quality is maximised at low cost and without associated negative environmental impact.

One hectare of habitat and one hectare of Linnet have been planted. These areas provide winter feeding and foraging zones to the wild bird populations.

More information is available here, Flagshipfarmers.eu.

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