McDonald’s unveils free tool to give beef farmers a digital advantage

8 March 2013

McDonald’s UK has today launched a bespoke carbon tool for the beef sector, as part of a £1 million investment in helping beef farmers in Britain and Ireland improve their environmental performance and realise greater efficiencies.For the first time, the innovative ‘What If?’ tool will enable farmers to measure the carbon emissions produced per kilo of beef, and benchmark their score against top performing farms.

McDonald’s is making the ‘What If?’ tool available to all beef farmers, including those outside of its supply chain, free of charge as part of Farm Forward; its long-term programme to create a sustainable future for British and Irish farming. The tool has been created by independent environmental and carbon consultants, The E-CO2 Project, following a three-year study involving more than 800 carbon assessments on over 200 commercial beef farms across Britain and Ireland.

The launch of the tool by McDonald’s follows the publication in November 2012 of Feeding the Future, a draft report backed by leading UK agricultural organisations including the Royal Agricultural Society of England (RASE), which called for an urgent increase in R&D in agriculture in order to increase food production in a sustainable way.[1]

The Carbon Trust-verified data collected as part of the three-year study reveals that environmental performance is linked to business efficiency. Based on these findings, the ‘What If?’ tool has been designed to help other farmers take a progressive look at their beef operation, improve their carbon footprint and drive greater efficiencies.

Farmers are asked to input data including daily live-weight gains for cattle, feed use per animal, fertiliser usage, sale weights and calf mortality rates.  A simple online dashboard delivers an instant assessment of current carbon emissions per kilo of beef produced, benchmarking farmers against the top 10% of farms in the data pool for their specific production system.

The tool also enables farmers to manipulate different ‘What If?’ scenarios to see which changes have the most impact on their carbon footprint and will in turn drive greater efficiencies for their business.

McDonald’s has invested £500,000 to better understand the greenhouse gas emissions of the British and Irish beef industry. It will also invest a further £500,000 over the next three years to help show beef farmers how they can run sustainable farm businesses through McDonald’s Sustainable Beef Clubs. Farmers will be invited to share their knowledge and experiences at the free networking sessions in return for free consultancy and access to the latest research.

Warren Anderson, Vice President, Supply Chain, McDonald’s UK, commented: “The ‘What If?’ tool has been developed as part of Farm Forward, our long-term programme to support the farming industry in Britain and Ireland – it’s our way of giving something back to over 16,000 beef farmers who supply our menu.  We’re thrilled that the data we’ve collected as part of our three-year study with The E-CO2 Project can now help all beef farmers benchmark their own performance and understand where they can make meaningful changes.

“As one of the biggest customers of British and Irish farming, we know that farmers are under pressure to reduce their environmental footprint and keep supplying quality produce.  Developing simple digital tools and making them easily accessible will help farming to become more efficient and more sustainable, but we also believe it is important to help farmers understand and share the research and insight that sits behind them, which we will continue to do through our Sustainable Beef Club programme over the next three years.”

 Andrew Wynne, Consultant, The E-CO2 Project, said: “Farmers are currently facing many challenges such as the weather, rising costs, disease and pressure to increase their output whilst minimising the impact on the environment. The ‘What If?’ carbon tool will enable beef farmers to measure their carbon footprint, giving them an advantage in understanding how to reduce their emissions whilst improving their profitability.”

David Heath MP, Minister of State for Agriculture and Food said:  “I’m pleased to see more and more businesses taking action to assess and reduce the carbon impacts along their supply chains. It is important that our farmers and food producers embrace new and innovative methods like the ‘What If?’ tool if they are to increase their competitiveness, grow their businesses, and protect the environment for the future.”

Chris Mallon, Director, National Beef Association (NBA) said: "The 'What If?' tool will help beef farmers across the UK produce high quality beef, economically, while reducing greenhouse emissions and improving environmental performance. I'm delighted that McDonald's is investing in digital tools like this for the benefit of the whole beef sector."

Darran Messem, Managing Director, Certification, the Carbon Trust, said: “We have been working with McDonald’s and E-CO2 since 2009.  In that time, we have seen the development and evolution of a technically sound and practical tool designed with the farmer in mind, helping farmers make a robust assessment of their carbon footprint.  This has made it easier for farmers to understand and act on their emissions. 

“Farming is a critical part of the UK economy and also a significant source of greenhouse gases.  It is therefore vital that we help farmers both reduce emissions and capture the economic benefits of doing so, which is why such a tool is a great asset.”


[1] Feeding the Future – Innovation Requirements for Primary Food Production in the UK to 2030, draft report prepared by the Joint Commissioning Group (November 2012)