Wake Up and Smell the Hog Waste?

It’s been nearly a month and I’m still thinking about the Food and Water Session panel I attended at ICCR’s Fall Conference. Panelists Kemp Burdette of Cape Fear River Watch, Elsie Harring of North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, and Martha Salomaa of Sipsey Heritage Commision spoke of the impacts associated with meat processing plants on local farms and how investors can affect change in this area. 

There are the same number of pigs as people in North Carolina. A fact surprising on its own, it bears more weight knowing these pigs produce roughly 10 times the amount of waste as the people. In addition to pigs, North Carolina has over 500 million chickens and turkeys producing even more waste. These factory farms or CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operation) and their respective waste lagoons and spray fields overwhelmed nearby farms and towns, mostly communities of color, with untreated waste which seeps into rivers, streams, and drinking water causing illness. This waste contains high levels of toxic gases including methane, hydrogen-sulfide and ammonia; nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus; and heavy metals such as copper which seeps into waterways causing harm to the health of rivers and communities nearby. Community complaints often go unheard and regulators rarely take any action to address these adverse environmental and health impacts.

Having listened to this panel, it came as no surprise to me that, according to Ceres’ 2019 Feeding Ourselves Thirsty report, the meat industry is the worst performing sector in managing water risks. This report tracked 40 major food, agriculture, and beverage companies and their management of water risks in operations and productions. While the food sector has improved its water risk management, 27 of the 40 companies tracked scored below 50%. In addition to this, “Of the 13 companies that have yet to assess water risks in their agricultural supply chains, six are in the meat industry.” 

Often, company executives claim ignorance of the impacts of their operations on communities near their plants and CAFOs even after communities voice complaints. Faith-based investor groups like ICCR help bring the community voice to the C-suite to demand remediation. However, the problem will continue to exist without comprehensive legislation and regulation to address these impacts on communities in a holistic way.

ICCR Food and Water Strategic Review

By Frank Sherman

Last week, Chris & I participated in the ICCR Program Strategy Week. The Program Directors met with their Workgroups in NYC to evaluate the progress over the past year and chart out a path forward for the 2018-19 corporate engagement season. This article will summarize the Food strategy session.

The Food Workgroup has been focused on several issues over the past few years including the overuse of antibiotics in meat, supply chain deforestation, food waste, nutrition, pesticide use, and worker rights. As would be expected, many food & beverage (F&B) companies are confronted with many of these risks. Different ICCR investor groups often times deal with the same company in silos, leading to inefficient and ineffective engagements. In the future, the company leads will try to discuss their issue objectives and strategies with each other annually, inform each other of upcoming dialogues, and support each other with joint agendas.

Animal agriculture accounts for 70% of antibiotic use, most of which is not medically necessary. Although we are engaging the meat producers, our focus has been on restaurants and retailers. We have been successful in reducing antibiotics in poultry with Sanderson Farms being the last holdout (43% vote). We’ve made far less progress on beef, pork and turkey; however we anticipate a beef policy from McDonald’s by the end of the year which may be the catalyst for the industry. We will also collaborate with Karner Blue Capital on engaging F&B companies on animal welfare issues.

Deforestation has been a nexus of issues from deforestation and soil erosion to biodiversity loss and land & labor rights abuses. Investors and allied NGO’s have made considerable progress on palm oil with 74% of SE Asia’s palm oil refining capacity now covered by these No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation (NDPE) sourcing policies. We plan to weigh in on RSPO’s update of the Principle & Criteria to strengthen them. Company commitments to source certified timber & pulp are also fairly extensive whereas commitments on sustainable beef and soy are far fewer, partly due to the lack of investor and NGO focus. This coming season, we will work with the broader global PRI investor coalition to focus on these commodities at companies who are creating the biggest impact.

With up to 40% of food (and all the resources that goes into producing it) wasted in the U.S., investors are calling on F&B companies to assess, reduce and optimally manage their food wastes. Kroger stepped up with their Zero Hunger-Zero Waste program with a target of zero food waste by 2025. Progress was also made at Target, Darden, McDonald’s, Kellogg and Hilton. The company target list will expand next season with stronger demands for companies to measure and report on waste reduction progress.

With more than 1 in 3 adults and 1 in 6 children considered to have obesity in the U.S. while 15% of American households are food insecure, nutrition continues to be a societal issue that we focus on. ICCR investors are engaging F&B manufacturers, retailers and restaurants to establish nutrition policies, improve product profiles, and change their marketing strategies, especially towards children. We have made progress in collaboration with the Access To Nutrition Index to encourage companies to improve their ranking. We will continue to work with UConn Rudd Center on marketing to children and minority communities.

We’ve increased our focus on food supply chain labor rights. We continue to support of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers and are starting to advocate for meat processing workers in the U.S. We are planning a campaign on the poultry sector where workers are typically immigrants and often undocumented leading to abuses. This is also the case for farm workers who are subject to unethical recruitment practices. We plan to work with Oxfam who’s recently released report, Behind the Barcodes, exposes the root causes behind human suffering in food supply chains.

The Food Workgroup has a full agenda, and Seventh Generation Interfaith members are welcome to jump in.