Weak efforts will slow meat industry’s effort to reduce environmental footprint, report says


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While sustainability has been a focus of the meat industry in recent years amid backlash from environmentalists, the FAIRR report details how a lack of transparency about their practices and meaningful measures in several areas has led people to doubt whether the industry is taking sustainability seriously.

More than 100 countries, including the U.S. and Brazil, signed the Global Methane Pledge at last month’s COP26 conference to reduce emission levels by 30% by 2030. Meat giant JBS reached a deal with Royal DSM to produce a new feed additive that would purportedly reduce methane emissions from cows by up to 90%. Other meat producers have not been clear about how they plan to lower their methane emissions, according to FAIRR.

“As the largest driver of both methane from human activity and deforestation, the ambitions set at COP26 handed a big slice of responsibility to the food and agriculture sector,” Jeremy Coller, FAIRR’s chairman, said in the report. “Failures from methane to manure management underline the growing sense in the market that cows are the new coal.”

An area of improvement for meat companies came from 13% setting science-based emissions reductions goals, up from 7% last year. Similarly, 18% have completed a climate-related scenario analysis compared to 3% in 2020. 

All the major meat producers were ranked as “high risk” with regard to waste and pollution, as companies across the board have not set “quality or volume targets on wastewater from their processing facilities,” the report said.

Beef companies were the highest scoring category among land-based meats, but eight of the 16 beef companies were still classified as “high risk”. Beef’s strongest metric came from animal welfare, while it performed poorly in water use and pollution. The report said beef production is the primary cause of emissions from the livestock industry, and listed it as the leading cause of deforestation globally.

Beef giants like JBS and Marfrig laid out zero-deforestation pledges at COP26, but the report found neither monitor their third-party suppliers, which FAIRR says are responsible for nearly 90% of all logging. The organization said beef producers in Brazil cannot trace the life cycle of their sourced cattle.

The worst performing meat category in the report was pork, followed by poultry, which both ranked low due to a lack of disclosure on their biodiversity, deforestation, water use and waste practices. The report also said almost half of all pork plants were considered “high risk” due to worker safety conditions during the pandemic.

FAIRR also found half of all poultry and egg producers have not set Scope 1 or Scope 2 targets, which cover direct and indirect emissions, respectively. Poultry’s contribution to deforestation was highlighted, noting that two-thirds of all companies do not have goals to set a zero deforestation pledge with regard to soy production for livestock feed.

The biggest area of improvement for the meat industry in the past year, according to the report, came from improved working conditions. While Tyson maintained a high worker turnover rate of 35% and Hormel was at 22%, working conditions improved 8% in North America in 2021.

With fingers pointed at meat and poultry companies on the global stage, pressure from investor groups like FAIRR could spur companies to adopt more practices that reduce their environmental footprint.

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