While companies like Chipotle, Panera, and Whole Foods like to anger American farmers with attack ads and misinformation, McDonald’s says it welcomes the viewpoint of its farmer suppliers. Don Thompson, President and CEO of McDonald’s, recently told the Purdue Ag Alumni that “without farmers there would be no McDonald’s.” In a meeting with reporters after the event, Thompson says farmers have a seat at the table when his company is discussing issues like animal welfare and biotechnology, “First and formost we have to bring in the customers’ viewpoint because that drives what we do, but then we bring in the producers themselves, the processors, and certain organizations who have views on how certain things should be done.” He said once everyone sits down together issues and challenges can usually be identified. He said this process is happening more and more as consumers are demanding transparency and sustainability in their food supply.
He cited, as an example, how McDonald’s handled the issue of gestation stalls, “Once we get everyone together, the critical issue is to decide what issues we should move forward on. The next part is to determine what are the implications of moving forward on those issues.” He said this is where the input of farmers is so important, “It is one thing to say we will change, but it is another when you start to look at the cost associated with the change.” He added farmers must be given adequate time to adjust their operations and practices to any new standards. But Thompson also admitted that not all producers may be able or willing to make the changes that McDonald’s requires in the future.
The Purdue alum and trustee says he values the science-based information that land grant universities like Purdue provide, “Our teams have been engaged with Purdue even more so of late relative to some of the issues like animal health and welfare and the overall life sciences aspect.” He noted that Indiana pork producer John Harden has been instrumental in helping McDonald’s understand the viewpoints of producers and the problems that may result from changes in production requirements.