Foodprints for the Future

FAIRR Protein Producer Index assesses best and worst animal protein companies on sustainability

In the midst of a climate crisis, more and more of us are turning to vegan and vegetarian diets to save the planet. From farm to fork, the global meat industry creates an enormous foodprint on the environment. Within 10 years the livestock sector will account for almost half of the world’s emissions budget if we are to keep global warming below 1.5°C. If we don’t change how we are producing and consuming food, that number will rise to 80% by 2050.

Meanwhile, films like Cowspiracy and The Game Changers and sports stars like Venus Williams and Héctor Bellerín are popularizing plant-based diets to help fight climate change, and in turn are shaping consumer choices.

The US market for plant-based foods passed $5 billion last year, and surveys suggest millennials are twice as likely as baby boomers (75% to 34%) to alter their food buying habits to reduce their impact on the environment.

Sorting the wheat from the chaff

FAIRR (Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return) is a network that raises awareness of the environmental, social and governance (ESG) risks and opportunities caused by intensive animal production. FAIRR currently advises and supports investors managing a total of $25 trillion USD — that’s around one in five of every dollar in the world’s capital markets.

FAIRR provides tools such as the Coller FAIRR Protein Producer Index, which launched its annual data update last week, to help investors and the public understand which food companies are taking sustainability issues like climate change seriously and which are merely paying lip service to it. The index assesses 60 of the world’s largest producers of beef, poultry and fish — worth $338 billion USD — across 10 environmental, social and governance related criteria.

This year’s Index data has found that seven of these 60 companies have committed to science-based targets for emissions reductions — internationally recognised, science-backed plans to reduce their greenhouse gases to help keep global warming below 2°C — but that most food companies have not.

The transparency and accountability that the Index brings has helped catalyze the number of animal protein producers diversifying into plant-based products. Two years ago, only five of 60 big meat, fish and dairy companies were taking significant action on plant-based alternatives. Two years later, we have seen a 450% increase to 22 of the 60 companies.

That’s solid evidence that plant-based food is taking hold in big meat firms — just as investing in renewables took hold in big oil and gas a few years ago. This is a trend we need to encourage if we are to transition to a low carbon economy.

Investors can also be encouraged to engage with some of the large meat suppliers assessed by the Coller FAIRR Index, such as Fujian Sunner (China), Seaboard Corporation (US) and Cherkizovo Group (Russia) who all ranked among the worst performers in the Index’s greenhouse gas emissions criteria. These firms are not famous, but they are important as they supply the likes of McDonalds and Nestle who need them if they are to fulfill their climate commitments. McDonald’s has pledged a 31% reduction in emissions intensity by 2030 and Nestlé has committed to reach zero net emissions by 2050.

Clearly, the climate pledges of international brands are being severely undermined by the animal protein supply chain’s failure to act on climate change. But through the investors, pension funds, insurance funds and banks that own these companies, change can be demanded in how these animal protein producers manage environmental and social issues.

Climate change is the defining issue facing this generation. Still, a great opportunity may change the trajectory of this issue: shrinking the protein sector’s carbon footprint through sustainable investment.

To learn more about food systems and how you can fight climate change with diet change, visit EARTHDAY.ORG’s Foodprints For The Future campaign.