Cargill pledges to tackle climate impact of beef business

Beefmaster cattle
ShutterstockCameron Watson
Beefmaster cattle standing in a green field.

Agribusiness giant Cargill has set its sights on slashing greenhouse gas emissions by almost a third across its North American beef supply chain over the next decade, acknowledging that "there is a pressing need to do more" to ensure a reduced environmental impact.

With public concern over the greenhouse gas emissions associated with meat consumption growing in the West and ever more convincing alternative protein options hitting the market, Cargill last week announced a target to cut the emissions intensity across its North American beef supply chain by 30 percent between 2017 and 2030. The target will be measured on a per pound of product basis, the company said.

The headline goal forms part of the firm's new BeefUp Sustainability program, through which it aims to work with its beef producers and customers to drive greener and more efficient cattle grazing management, improve feed production and innovation, and reduce food waste.

Cargill claimed the climate impact of achieving the emissions goal would be equivalent to removing 2 million cars from U.S. highways for a year. It added that the strategy also would improve production efficiency to meet increasing demand for protein so as "to feed a growing population."

"This initiative builds on the strong environmental stewardship work already led by farmers and ranchers," said Jon Nash, head of Cargill's North American protein business. "Cargill is creating connections across the entire North American beef supply chain. Together, we can expand current sustainable agricultural practices to make a meaningful difference."

Cargill is one of the largest privately held companies in the United States in terms of revenue, with its business activities covering agricultural commodities such as livestock, palm oil and energy.

As part of its new beef sustainability efforts, the company said it also would be expanding its partnership with U.S. green NGO The Nature Conservancy. The two plan to work closely with farmers and ranchers to demonstrate how sustainable grazing management planning can improve soil, carbon storage, vegetation, wildlife habitat, water and other environmental benefits.

Cargill said these practices "have been shown to help producers be more resilient during extreme weather events."

Moreover, the company has launched a new "Manure Innovation Challenge" in partnership with sustainable agri-tech organization the Yield Lab Institute to connect start-ups and companies to create innovations that capture more value from manure-based nutrients, fiber and energy in order to boost farm profitability.

Heather Tansey, sustainability lead for Cargill's global animal nutrition and protein businesses, stressed that significantly reducing greenhouse gases "requires change across the entire supply chain."

"We know the time to act is now and that agriculture can be part of the solution," she added. "We're investing in science-based practices and have identified focus areas that will ensure we have the greatest environmental impact."

The news comes amidst a boom in plant-based food and alternative meat products in the West, largely due to consumer concern over the environmental and health impacts of meat-heavy diets.

A recent report by the FAIRR investor network argued large food companies such as Unilever, Nestle, M&S and Tesco are increasingly developing proactive strategies for managing rising demand for sustainable protein, such as through launching a raft of new meat-free products. Overall, it estimated the alternative meat industry could be worth $100 billion within the next 15 years, as it becomes increasingly competitive with the traditional meat industry.

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