McDonald's Europe seeks to raise farming standards
By Nigel Hunt
Article from Reuters
WYTHAM, England (Reuters) - Restaurant chain McDonald's Europe launched a farming program on Thursday which could lead to cows getting weekly foot baths but water being saved in the production of lettuce and tomatoes.
The company, which has 6,600 restaurants in 40 European countries, is seeking to tackle a wide range of environmental and animal welfare issues through a flagship farm initiative.
Chief Supply Chain Officer Karl Fritz said it had chosen seven farm businesses across Europe to highlight examples of where improvements had been made in the hope it would encourage broad adoption across the European farming community.
The farms include one in the Netherlands which has introduced grooved anti-slip flooring and weekly foot-bathing for cows to reduce the incidence of lameness, while a lettuce farm in Spain had cut water use in an area of low rainfall.
Fritz, who was attending the launch of the initiative on the Oxford University farm in Wytham, told Reuters in an interview the company was trying to avoid concentrating on one issue to the neglect of many others.
"It is not a silver bullet which gets the result. It is continuous concentration on the whole subject. It is like when you drive a car and all the cylinders are humming, you drive smoother," he said.
McDonald's Europe uses one million tonnes of potatoes a year, 200,000 tonnes of beef, 60,000 tonnes of lettuce, 100,000 tonnes of wheat and 150,000 tonnes of milk every year.
Fritz said the company has sought during the economic downturn to respond to consumer desire for more sustainable production without raising prices.
"Food cost is only one part of the equation. If you can increase frequency and volume in your business you still might make a better result than if you charge a higher price," he said.
McDonald's in Britain uses organic milk and in Switzerland and France uses the equivalent, biomilk, premium products at a time when Europe's dairy farmers are struggling to remain in business following a sharp decline in global prices.
"It is the only way to keep the milk industry afloat because when you see what the farmers are getting for milk, it is a shame," he said.
Fritz said he believed Ukraine could play a key role in meeting European demand for agricultural products.
"I personally believe Ukraine has a similar potential to Latin America. They don't have the same size but for Europe they are very sizeable," he said.
"You have one of the most productive soils, very inexpensive labor, a great climate so all they need is technology and infrastructure, he said.
Fritz said the company was also seeking to respond to consumer demands for healthier products, looking at low fat ice creams and more fruit and vegetable options.
"The challenge is the mums want it but the kids don't," he said, pointing out it was proving difficult to get some children to switch from french fries to baby carrots.
(Editing by Keiron Henderson)