- The board of the North American Meat Institute unanimously agreed to make the environmental impact of meat and poultry production a noncompetitive issue among members, according to a release.
- NAMI, which represents 95% of red meat processors and 70% of turkey products, is encouraging companies to share sustainability best practices. The group said it will develop a list of advisers who can help producers with problems, and it has an awards program acknowledging plants with strong environmental programs, according to the release.
- In the past, the trade group has encouraged members to work together on other issues. The group took a noncompetitive stance on worker safety in 1990, food safety in 2001 and animal welfare in 2002. Those agreements have led to reduced worker injuries, facilities producing more than 95% of beef, pork and lamb following animal welfare guidelines, and "drastic reductions" of pathogens such as E. coli and listeria on meat products, the group said.
As research and reports continue to recommend eating less meat to help combat climate change, it makes sense for the industry to rally together. With an increase in plant-based meats and climate-conscious consumers, getting all meat and poultry companies on the same page when it comes to sustainability efforts could boost the industry as a whole.
There is strong incentive for meat and poultry industries to focus on environmental impact since consumers are looking for more sustainable products and will often reward those manufacturers with their purchasing dollars. About two-thirds of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable brands, and that figure is even higher for millennials (73%) and Generation Z (72%), according to Nielsen.
Some makers of plant-based meat have been doing life cycle analyses of their products and comparing them favorably to a pound of real beef. Impossible Foods recently released an assessment that showed the carbon footprint of the latest Impossible Burger recipe was 89% smaller than a conventional burger. Beyond Meat had a similar assessment done this past fall for its Beyond Burger, finding the burger's production made 90% fewer greenhouse gas emissions and needed 46% less non-renewable energy.
The beef industry has already done its own assessment. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Beef Checkoff conducted a study that found the environmental impacts of beef production are often overestimated. The report said beef production comprises just 3.3% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. Water use and fossil fuel inputs were also reported as far below previous estimates.
With more meat and poultry companies working together on sustainability efforts, this could have the same successful impact as the other issues NAMI decided should be noncompetitive.
Sustainability pledges and goals have become standard operating procedure in the food and beverage industry. A 2018 report by Ceres found two-thirds of more than 600 of the largest U.S. public companies have committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and more than half have formal policies to manage water resources. This visible push toward sustainability is a direct response to consumer demand.
This isn't the first push toward improving environmental impacts in the meat business. The U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, which represents about 30% of the U.S. herd, recently developed a voluntary resource called the U.S. Beef Industry Sustainability Framework.
While many large food makers have publicized their sustainability goals and progress toward them, it's no longer sufficient to merely talk about it. Not only are consumers watching and willing to take their business elsewhere, but groups such as Greenpeace are routinely assessing sustainability pledges and making the findings public. In its most recent report, Greenpeace said not one company demonstrated "meaningful effort to eradicate deforestation from its supply chain," including cattle companies.
Because of this ongoing publicity and pressure, it's likely consumers will be paying increased attention to how well producers and manufacturers are achieving sustainability goals. If they like what they see, they may be more willing to buy meat, especially if the industry is collaborating on reducing associated environmental impacts.