Food production accounts for more than one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, and food companies have set goals to address the issue. Critics claim, however, that businesses and governments are not working quickly enough to change course.
This month, world and industry leaders attended the United Nations COP27 conference. During the conference in Egypt, activist groups and others urged food companies to shift their supply chains in order to reach the UN’s goal of lowering the rise in global temperatures from 2 degrees Celsius to 1.5 degrees by 2025.
Sustainability investor group FAIRR, which represents $18 trillion in assets, succeeded in pushing the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to publish how food companies can lower their emissions.
“A roadmap for the food system will help investors to identify new, sustainable investment opportunities, and to identify risks for companies that are not aligned to the likely direction of future policies,” FAIRR investor Steve Waygood, chief responsible investment officer at Aviva Investors, said in an emailed statement.
Many food companies emphasized their goals of reaching net zero emissions by 2050 at last year’s COP26 conference, including Nestlé, Grupo Bimbo and Mars.
During this year’s conference, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack emphasized the government’s commitment to lowering emissions from the agricultural supply chain. This includes a $5 million investment in enteric fermentation research that aims to find solutions to lower methane emissions from cows.
Vilsack also highlighted $400 million in funds the government granted to dairy producers to help them transition to more sustainable alternatives.
Targeting food waste
Besides emissions reduction, activist groups continue to scrutinize the amount of food that goes to waste, sparking calls to make supply chains more efficient to lower food insecurity. The federal government has received criticism for their lack of transparency on the issue.
Despite the USDA, EPA and FDA agreeing to work together to target food waste reduction in the Federal Interagency Food Loss and Waste Collaboration, food waste group ReFed told Reuters that not enough action has been made.
UN officials in a new Cool Coalition report said that sustainable food chains can lower food waste but also make agricultural systems more efficient and lower the impact of climate change. The report recommends that governments enact efforts to transition supply chains to climate-friendly technologies to lower the amount of food that goes to waste.
Food and beverage companies have made efforts to address the amount of food they waste. General Mills has set a goal to achieve zero waste to landfills from its production facilities by 2025 and has set a goal to halve the food waste in its operations by 2030.
Pushing for less plastic pollution
But the practices of one CPG giant called into question the food industry’s commitment to improving sustainability. COP27 faced accusations of greenwashing from sustainability activists when they learned that Coca-Cola was a conference sponsor this year. A petition to remove the beverage company as a sponsor received over 240,000 online signatures.
Sustainability group Greenpeace said in a statement that Coca-Cola must change its plastic practices before the company can be considered sustainable.
“Cutting plastic production and ending single-use plastic is in line with the goal of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees. If Coca-Cola really wants to solve the plastic and climate crisis, it needs to turn off its plastics tap,” John Hocevar, director of oceans campaign at Greenpeace USA, said.
During the conference, UN officials stressed that governments and companies must cooperate to target illegal plastic waste and embrace alternatives, such as glass. Miho Shirotori, an officer for international trade for the United Nations, argued that improving trade policies between countries can help facilitate this shift.
“Trade policy can support a transition to plastic alternatives by adjusting tariff and non-tariff measures,” Shirotori said. “The future is not plastic. The future is plastic substitutes, and trade can help in the transition.”