Meat and fish companies failing to tackle sustainability risks

| 7th June 2018
Meat in supermarket

Meat in a supermarket

The majority of meat, fish and dairy suppliers are not managing environmental and social risks, according to an analysis of 60 global food companies. Meanwhile, Scottish campaigners are asking for more sustainable food. CATHERINE EARLY reports

The index will help institutional capital identify both best in class companies and potential stranded assets in the food sector.

Meat and fish companies worth $152 billion have been labelled “high risk” due to their poor performance in managing risk from climate change, antibiotics risk and worker safety.

The research aimed to produce the world’s first comprehensive assessment of how some of the world’s biggest suppliers of meat and fish are managing risks of greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation and biodiversity loss, water scarcity and use, waste and pollution, antibiotics, animal welfare, working conditions and food safety. Scores were based on a company’s commitments, policies and disclosure. 

Failing to manage

A total of 36 out of 60 listed companies - including suppliers to fast food chains McDonalds and KFC - were categorised as “high risk”. The third largest poultry producer in the US, Sanderson farms, was also given a bottom-tier ranking.

Almost half of the firms analysed (46) were ranked “high risk” on antibiotics stewardship, after they were found to have few or no measures in place to reduce excessive use of antibiotics, despite emerging regulation on the issue, including in the US.

The research was carried out by the investor network FAIRR, whose members include Aviva Investors and Schroders. The index produced from the results aimed to improve corporate disclosure in sustainability issues by all major livestock and fisheries companies, and bridge the knowledge gap for investors in this sector.

On climate change, 72 percent of the sector is failing to manage climate risk, despite being responsible for 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Potential stranded assets

Jeremy Coller is the founder of the FAIRR Initiative and chief investment officer of Coller Capital which manages $17 billion of assets.

He said: “Investors need environment, social and governance (ESG) data and transparency to make better investment decisions, yet this information is lacking in the meat, fish and dairy sector. This is the first index to help investors bridge that knowledge gap.”
“As megatrends like climate change, antibiotic resistance and food technology radically reshape the way we produce and consume meat, fish and dairy, the Coller FAIRR index will help institutional capital identify both best in class companies and potential stranded assets in the food sector.”

The index also highlights best practice, including Norwegian aquaculture business Marine Harvest.

This top ranked firm was praised for tracking its use of antibiotics and quantifying it on the basis of a gram of active substance per tonne of product. The company only uses antibiotics when fish are at risk, and says it aims to have “minimal” use of antibiotics by 2022.

Good food

Meanwhile, in Scotland, campaigners have gathered outside the Scottish Parliament to call for legislation on improving the sustainability of food.

The Scottish Government pledged to publish a consultation on how to make the country “a good food nation”, where everyone has access to nutritious food and dietary-related diseases and the environmental impact of food are in decline.

In January, cabinet secretary for the rural economy Fergus Ewing told MSPs that ministers had been considering the recommendations of a commission set up to develop policies to implement the good food nation.

But campaigners from the Scottish Food Coalition and Obesity Action Scotland said that the consultation was overdue.

Amabel Crowe, coordinator at the Scottish Food Coalition, said: “Never has there been a timelier moment to introduce law – food sits at the heart of Scotland’s biggest challenges, from food insecurity to poor health, from worker rights to our warming climate.

“The public consultation can’t just be about business as usual, it has to listen to the families relying on food banks, the people with chronic health conditions, the workers and the farmers who feed Scotland,” she said.

This Author

Catherine Early is a freelance environmental journalist and the former deputy editor of the environmentalist. She can be found tweeting at @Cat_Early76.

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