Third-party outlets have emerged to help food companies track their emissions like sustainability research company HowGood, which launched a platform to measure indirect scope 3 emissions — which make up roughly 87% of the industry’s carbon footprint through ingredient transportation, waste and more.
JBS pulls ‘aspirational’ claims about its net zero emissions goal
By: Megan Poinski• Published June 23, 2023
The National Advertising Review Board recommended JBS USA stop making “aspirational” claims about its goal to reach net zero emissions by 2040. According to a release from the board, JBS has agreed to comply with this recommendation.
The claims, which were challenged by the nonprofit Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, seem to communicate that the meat producer’s plan has been evaluated and that there is a reasonable expectation that it can reach that emissions goal, the board found. However, they said, JBS is currently in the exploratory stage of figuring out how it can meet that target.
Many food companies have made ambitious sustainability goals, and some experts have saidtheir claims amounted to greenwashing. Because of themeat industry’slarge carbon footprint, companies in this space have been scrutinized for their sustainability plans.
It’s difficult to deny that beef has an outsized environmental footprint.
A goal from the world’s largest meat producer to reach net zero emissions within two decades is enough to turn heads and cause people to take notice. But it’s also extremely difficult to achieve.
Thisis why the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy called into question advertising claims, including “Bacon, chicken wings and steak with net zero emissions. It’s possible,” and “Leading change across the food industry and achieving our goal of net zero by 2040 will be a challenge. Anything less is not an option.”
The National Advertising Division of BBB National Programs ruled these claims were too aspirational. The division asked JBS to withdraw those claims at that time, but noted it was not precluding the meat giant from making narrower statements about researchingpotential methods todrive a reduction in emissions.
JBS appealed the decision to the National Advertising Review Board, saying the challenged claims send a message that the company has a detailed plan in place to reach its net-zero emissions goal. The meat processorargued that the claim is substantiated by the “foundational work” it had done toward that goal to date.
The release about the final decision says the company disagrees with the way both bodies interpreted consumer perception about its net zero goals.
For its part, JBS has been moving forward with measures to increase its overall sustainability. In January, the company purchased renewable energy certificates — proof that energy is coming from renewable and environmentally responsible sources — for a thermoelectric plant it owns in Brazil.
However, the company has also come under fire for its sustainability-related actions.
This decision by the National Advertising Review Board — and JBS’s willingness to comply with it — represents progress toward accountability.
Sustainability goals are central to food and beverage companies’ business models, but this incident shows theyare expected to back up everything they claim. While there is nothing wrong with aspirational sustainability goals, companies need to differentiate between what they hope for and what they actually can do.
Article top image credit: Matthew Stockman via Getty Images
How PepsiCo is working to convince its farmers to embrace regenerative agriculture
The food and beverage giant hopes practices such as using cover crops can help it meet its goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2040, said Rob Meyers, vice president of global sustainability.
As part of its Pep+ sustainability platform launched in 2021, the CPG has committed to spreading regenerative agriculture practices across its key ingredient footprint, equal to 7 million acres. It estimates this will cut at least 3 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions by the end of this decade.
PepsiCo said a key part of its goal is improving the livelihoods of over 250,000 suppliers across its supply chain. But convincing farmers to actually embrace these practices could prove difficult.
According to Rob Meyers, PepsiCo’s vice president of sustainable agriculture and global sustainability, the process can be especially challenging with farmers who have produced food the same way for generations.
“There are a lot of benefits to these practices we’re promoting and the outcomes we’re trying to drive, but some of those benefits are not well understood. There is real financial risk,” Meyers said. “It requires that farmers are willing to go out on a limb and make that change, sometimes ahead of many of their peers.”
Dan Huber, a farmer in Columbia, Iowa, said he enrolled in the Pep+ program in 2021 and is impressed with the results of implementing cover crops — specifically, the crop cereal rye, which targets weeds — into his operations. He said he was unsure at first whether it would be effective at improving the crops he grew, and that he had to develop a strategy for how the rye would be integrated into his farm.
“I was skeptical. It was no fun to plan it, and you do need to have your own sprayer, but it did suppress weeds,” Huber said. “There is definitely an economic benefit.”
Sustainable agriculture ambitions
Pep+, PepsiCo’s sustainability platform launched in 2021, was designed with the intention to set time-bound goals for green projects like regenerative agriculture.
In order to embed regenerative agriculture practices within its farmer network, Meyers said PepsiCo has worked to create a peer-to-peer environment, where farmers more familiar with regenerative practices help the others.
“We try to find and work with high quality, trusted, credible partners that can provide technical assistance and good agronomy advice for the farmer that’s relevant to them,” Meyers said.
The CPG giant is making a point to stress the economic benefits of regenerative agriculture to its suppliers. Savings from reducing the use of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides can help drive profit, it said in its “Positive Ag Supplier Playbook” published in May. The company pointed to Mexico’s sugar cane industry seeing yields increase after embracing a regenerative approach.
Meyers said the company is focused on potato and corn farming operations, ingredients the company relies on most for products such as Fritos and Lay’s chips. The company is training farmers to adopt practices such as the use of cover crops, crop rotations and increasing diversity within the soil.
“We've got programs where we're looking at different opportunities for farmers to be more efficient and to give them the tools and the resources to understand how they can apply inputs more efficiently, in order to make their land more productive and ultimately, more profitable for that production,” Meyers said.
PepsiCo aims to become net water positive, replenishing more than it consumes, by 2030. Its network of farmers is key in this. Meyers said that efforts to replenish its water usage are focused in areas of high water risk and drought. These include programs that work with farmers to improve their irrigation systems and technology that helps utilize water more efficiently and prevents the input of pesticides.
“We're using some risk assessment methodologies to understand that things may be okay today, but what are they going to be like, five years from now for farmers?” Meyers said.
The CPG giant also plans on enacting programs to educate consumers that may not be aware of their sustainability developments. One way the company has already done this is through a QR code on the back of Lay’s chips bags that lead to a webpage detailing where the potatoes were grown.
“Consumers are really interested in where their products are grown and where they end up,” Meyers said. “I think for a company like PepsiCo to make a connection between farmers and consumers is going to be an important role for us to play.”
Article top image credit: Retrieved from PepsiCo on October 26, 2022
Despite dire warnings in climate report, HowGood sees promise in food production
The sustainability platform’s chief innovation officer Ethan Soloviev said in an interview that carbon sequestration and deforestation prevention provide solutions to food insecurity.
Despite the dire report, one sustainability platform sees an upside for food and beverage companies, believing that these businesses have the greatest ability to improve the situation.
“One of the most important things that was highlighted in this report, which is clearer than ever, is that food is a nature-based solution,” HowGood’s chief innovation officer Ethan Soloviev explained. “It says very boldly that agriculture is both a huge driver of the challenges and the only thing that can be net positive.”
Sustainable food research company HowGood — which works with CPGs like General Mills, Kraft Heinz and Danone to calculate their emissions and rates companies based on their carbon footprint — thinks food makers can do more with what they have in their supply chain.
The food and beverage industry is responsible for more than a third of total emissions globally, the UN said. Soloviev said this report detailed how food is not just a cause for rising emissions, but that it can serve as a way to solve the climate crisis.
“Agriculture can touch all of this way more than efficient buildings, way more than fuel switching, way more than carbon capture and storage,” Soloviev said.
HowGood launched a measurement platform in fall 2022 to help food companies track their scope 3 emissions — those produced indirectly, through their ingredient supply chain or waste — which make up roughly 87% of food company emissions. The HowGood platform analyzes over 33,000 ingredients, the company said.
While the IPCC report was “rough,” Soloviev added that it also gives the food industry insight into how farming techniques can be a powerful force behind lowering emissions.
Soloviev pointed to the section of the IPCC report that details mitigation strategies for emissions, which shows how carbon sequestration is among the most promising solutions for returning carbon to the atmosphere — worth over 3 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.
After other mitigation measures like solar and wind energy, the report listed deforestation and sustainable healthy diets as climate changing factors.
‘Carbon is the new calorie’ but beware of greenwashing
One way CPGs can communicate their commitment to lowering emissions is through the food products themselves.
“Carbon is the new calorie, so we will see carbon footprints on packaging more and more,” Soloviev said.
But food companies run the risk of greenwashing charges if they are not specific about how they are working to improve their supply chain. And focusing too much on carbon can feel dry or disconnected to some consumers without a human connection, Soloviev said. He thinks there is open space for food companies to communicate the biodiversity in their farming systems and the ingredients they are using.
“Who doesn’t love some beautiful rare species of animal or plant somewhere in the world? Connecting based on biodiversity will provide a real life connection,” Soloviev said. “There’s some new tech coming for measuring biodiversity, and that will open up possibilities.”
Many food and beverage companies have also received certification from third-party organizations in order to signal their products’ carbon neutrality or sustainable production methods, including Fresh Del Monte’s carbon-neutral pineapples.
There are many different types of certification which can be confusing to consumers, Soloviev said. The HowGood executive believes in a few years, there will be a streamlining of these types of certification, where one or two become the most widely used.
“You’ll see more unification of the types of labels that are out there, and a retailer will rate everything in their entire store,” Soloviev said.
How green tech leads the way
In March 2022, the SEC proposed rule changes to require companies to periodically share information about their climate impact, which could signal a greater cost for those who are not transparent.
There are several other sustainability tech companies besides HowGood, including Sustain.Life, which helps companies calculate scope 3 emissions and set them on the path toward lowering their footprint.
For food companies looking to move toward large sustainability goals like lowering emissions, they must first address what is needed for their specific supply chain, Sustain.Life’s Alyssa Rade said. She said her company’s platform focuses on action, which includes more than just emissions.
“We have a module where you can engage with your top suppliers, understand where your emissions hotspots are, request allocated emissions and even look beyond, to larger ESG practices like fair labor and working conditions,” Rade said.
Article top image credit: David McNew via Getty Images
Regenerative ag is driving food sustainability promises, but is it greenwashing?
As companies like PepsiCo and General Mills enlist farmers to deliver on their lofty emissions reduction goals, experts are divided over whether the practice can produce tangible results.
By: Chris Casey• Published April 27, 2023
Food companies are making lofty promises about lowering emissions by the end of the 2020s, and regenerative agriculture is touted as a solution to improving their carbon footprints. But many experts say a lack of a definition for regenerative agriculture may do more harm than good.
Broadly, “regenerative agriculture” is any form of farming that actively works to sequester carbon from the atmosphere into soil. There are a variety of farming methods, including cover crops and intercropping, both of which are methods to implement new crops into a farm’s ecosystem. Regenerative farms typically don’t disturb the soil as much as conventional farms and avoid heavy fertilizers.
A recent report from the agriculture group Food and Land Use Coalition pointed out that unrealistic claims can lead some companies to misrepresent what is possible with sustainable farming practices.
“The lack of alignment leads to confusion among stakeholders about what regenerative agriculture involves and what it can achieve,” said Theodora Ewer, one of the report’s authors.
Some large companies have embraced regenerative agriculture, such as PepsiCo, which works with farmers to implement practices across its global supply chain, including with corn, wheat and soy farmers in the Midwest.
The CPG giant has committed to spreading these sustainable practices across its key ingredient footprint, equal to 7 million acres. PepsiCo estimates that regenerative farming will cut at least 3 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions by the end of this decade.
General Mills is embarking on a farmer-focused pilot project across the U.S. and Canada. The company is looking at farmland as a living ecosystem to maximize biodiversity.
“If cover crop mixtures are so beneficial, those benefits are sure hard to detect,” McGuire said. “Nor have I found evidence showing that intercropping is better than a diverse rotation of monocultures.”
In with the outcomes
Outcomes-based measures would help alleviate the greenwashing effect that some think the regenerative-agriculture has come to represent.
FOLU reported that the most accurate data about food companies’ operations should be publicly available to allow for the most transparency.
“Policy makers should re-purpose agricultural subsidies to support agriculture that achieves positive outcomes,” Ewer said. “Subsidies should be aligned with an outcomes based framework to ensure stakeholders are rewarded for delivering on positive outcomes, rather than on volume or practices.”
The agriculture group pointed to a stakeholder initiative, Regen10, which the organization said applies pressure to food companies to take action. FOLU, Ewer said, engages with farmers and indigenous groups on a framework for how to best implement regenerative agriculture methods across regions.
“The framework will allow food system actors to properly measure agricultural outcomes to inform practices, guide incentives, validate data flows, and drive innovation and adaptation,” Ewer said.
Advocates embrace its purported benefits
Some experts are more optimistic about regenerative agriculture and see the benefits outweighing some of the confusion.
Dr. Jeffrey Bland, founder of immune health company Big Bold Health, said that there are notable nutritional benefits to crops grown through regenerative agriculture. He said that farming operations act as their own microbiome, and soil health methods have immune-boosting properties.
“When plant seeds are planted in soil in order to stimulate the growth and develop immune-active substances, and that plant is eaten by humans, it has a greater potential impact on positively supporting the immune system,” Bland said.
Sustainability organization The Ellen MacArthur Foundation wrote in a blog post that healthier soil for food production, with higher amounts of microbial biodiversity, is one of the main ways to prevent further climate catastrophe. The foundation wrote that if producers do not implement practices, such as cover crops by 2050, the food system will have used up two-thirds of the global remaining carbon budget.
“Regenerative food production makes harvests more reliable and resilient in the long term, by enhancing the health of soils, ecosystems and species on which we rely,” the group posted. “This can make individual farms more resilient to the effects of climate change, such as flooding, drought, and changes in temperature and precipitation.”
Article top image credit: Mario Tama via Getty Images
Coca-Cola, 8 bottlers form $137.7M venture capital fund focusing on sustainability investments
By: Christopher Doering• Published July 12, 2023
Coca-Cola and eight bottling partners from around the world formed a $137.7 million venture capital fund that will focus on sustainability investments, the beverage groups said.
Each of the nine entities, including Atlanta-based Coca-Cola, contributed about $15 million to the initiative. The bottlers collectively represent nearly half of Coca-Cola system volume globally.
The companies said with carbon footprint “a major priority” the fund will initially focus on five key areas with the biggest potential impact. Those include: packaging, heating and cooling, facility decarbonization, distribution and the supply chain.
“This fund offers an opportunity to pioneer innovative solutions and help scale them quickly within the Coca-Cola system and across the industry,” John Murphy, president and CFO at Coca-Cola, said in a statement. “We expect to benefit from getting access to emerging technology and science for sustainability and carbon reduction.”
Greycroft, a venture capital firm, will manage the investment known as the Greycroft Coca-Cola System Sustainability Fund. It will invest in companies at the point of commercialization.
Similar to other food and beverage companies, Coca-Cola, which oversees brands such as Dasani, Topo Chico, BodyArmor and its namesake soda, has received criticism that it has fallen behind on its pledge to increase its use of renewable packaging.
In April, Greenpeace criticized Coca-Cola’s commitment to curtailing plastic waste after it pointed out the beverage giant is using more single-use plastic but the number of refillable bottles it has in circulation has stayed the same.
For its part, Coca-Cola has said it is “committed to helping create a more sustainable future” and that it has “a responsibility to be part of the packaging waste solution.”
The beverage giant company has previously highlighted a few of its efforts, including making 100% of its packaging recyclable globally by 2025 (currently 90%) and using at least 50% recycled materials in its packaging by 2030 (currently 25% across all materials and 15% for PET).
It reduced direct (scope 1) and indirect emissions from its energy sources (scope 2) [by 25%] from a 2015 baseline, with more than 70% of its global electricity needs in direct operations now met by renewable sources.
But Scope 3 emissions — which account for 93% of the company’s emissions — increased by 5% from the baseline, due to “unprecedented business growth.” Scope 3 is generally defined as indirect emissions from across a company’s supply and value chain.
Article top image credit: Christopher Doering/Food Dive
How food could play a greater role in sustainability policy in the coming years
Policymakers are starting to connect the dots between the sector — which represents roughly a third of all emissions — and climate change. But traditional ideas about food are hard to change.
By: Megan Poinski• Published Jan. 31, 2023
While the food system has always been a vital component of climate change, it’s largely been ignored in favor of attention to other sources, such as emissions from factories and vehicles. Until 2022, that is.
The 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, commonly called COP27, featured the first-ever Food Systems Pavilion. And, for the first time, agriculture and food systems took the main stage in discussions about climate change.
Eat Just founder and CEO Josh Tetrick used that conference opportunity to make the case for food as a climate solution.
“You’re not going to solve climate change unless you talk about meat,” he said. “And I know it’s hard to talk about meat because it feels very sensitive when you talk about meat.
“It’s a lot more emotional than talking about not drilling for oil,” Tetrick said, “but you’ve got to talk about [meat] because something has to be done about it.”
Eat Just, which is the only company in the world with regulatory approval to serve cultivated meat, hosted a special tasting of its Good Meat chicken at COP27 last November in Egypt. For people who weren’t completely aware of the connection between animal agriculture and sustainability, Tetrick said the tasting helped them to connect the dots and see both the problem and a potential solution.
Cultivated meat is grown and harvested without traditional animal agriculture. A life cycle analysis of the cultivated meat industry by CE Delft, which was commissioned by the Good Food Institute and European animal rights group GAIA, cultivated meat could cause up to 92% less global warming, 93% less air pollution, use up to 95% less land and 78% less water, compared to conventional beef production.
However, just because the connection between food and sustainability is becoming more familiar to the public, doesn’t mean the problems are close to being solved, said Sheila Voss, vice president of communications at the Good Food Institute, an international organization that promotes the alternative protein space. After all, she said, about a third of all emissions can be attributed to food and agriculture, according to a UN-backed study published in Nature-Food in 2021.
“There’s a far way to go in terms of translating that momentum into actual policies, investments, governments investing in food and ag and alt protein R&D, as well as organizations really prioritizing the solutions of how food and ag can contribute to some of the world’s biggest issues and challenges,” Voss said.
Connecting the dots
Dhanush Dinesh, founder of “think-and-do tank” Clim-Eat, which uses science and policy to bring about policy changes in the food system, is well known for his activism. But he worked in energy and forestry policy before moving into food system advocacy.
“Many times, the pressure on forests is because of land expansion as a result of agriculture expansion,” Dinesh said. “I saw that from the forestry side, and I thought, ‘OK, I need to understand the other side to connect the dots.’”
Dinesh, who attended COP27, said more education is needed to help people understand the complex role that food plays in sustainability. Where do you start making changes? Where do you need to stop? How can you implement solutions that work worldwide with different cultures, behaviors and economic systems?
“It’s a lot more emotional than talking about not drilling for oil, but you’ve got to talk about [meat] because something has to be done about it.”
CEO, Eat Just
Eat Just’s Tetrick said that even among more educated urban and affluent consumers, there is still a low level of awareness about the connection between animal agriculture and the environment. Many people would say that animal agriculture isn’t great for the environment, but they may not know the basics of why.
“That doesn’t mean that they’re going to switch to something else, unless that something else ultimately is better in really important ways for their lives,” Tetrick said. “...And they believe it to be better from a health perspective or a taste perspective or a cost perspective or all three of them.”
While organizations and companies, including Eat Just, have worked to raise awareness of the food and sustainability connection, a major world event in 2022 sharpened that focus across the world: The war in Ukraine.
The severe reduction in wheat and sunflower ingredients usually exported from Ukraine led to high prices and shortages around the globe, which in turn led more people to think about how the food system can be more sustainable and resilient, said Helena Wright, policy director at the FAIRR Initiative, an investor network focused on environmental, social and governance risks in the food sector.
“Investors are trying to reduce the risks through their whole portfolio, including the companies that they invest in, and that’s a really effective lever of change in terms of them being the shareholders of companies,” Wright said. “And then in some cases, we do see companies in the private sector getting ahead of regulation. They’re trying to get ahead of where policy is, where regulation might change in future. And a lot of companies are also global, so if a regulation or policy comes in one place, it will affect the company’s whole supply chain globally as well.”
Getting on the menu
Making a difference at COP27 wasn’t one of Clim-Eat’s policy objectives when the organization started in 2022, Dinesh said. As he has seen for years, the huge international bureaucratic process tends to move slowly and isn’t always effective.
Dinesh started Clim-Eat as a result of his disappointment in outcomes for food sustainability policy and awareness at COP26 in 2021. The result, according to a recap from the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development, was an agreement on the need for a transition to more sustainable food systems – without any roadmap.
The COP27 presidency asked Clim-Eat for advisory assistance on the topics of food and agriculture, Dinesh said. Several other food organizations sought out Clim-Eat to convene a Food Systems Pavilion. Suddenly COP27 became the first of the large-scale international policymaking climate conferences in which the sustainability of the food system had a place in the spotlight.
“It’s been a big leap forward, I would say, in terms of putting food out there,” Dinesh said. “It's interesting, because I keep going into COPs, and there are some people working on food and we all know each other, you know, but this is a time when other sectors, other people, were thinking about food, and looking at food, and thinking about it as a sector which is important.”
Voss said the Good Food Institute also observed COP26 in 2021 and wondered why food did not play a more central role in the discussions or potential solutions. GFI joined the coalition of organizations co-hosting the food pavilion in 2022.
At COP27 and other global climate conferences, the consensus has been that countries around the world need to cut emissions in half by 2030. Voss said that there are some realities about the food system that seemed to resonate among conference delegates, such as choosing plant-based alternatives to animal food products could help reach those emissions targets within seven years.
COP27’s Food Systems Pavilion was located next to pavilions devoted to nature and water, Voss said. All three worked together to show how they were interconnected. For example, GFI partnered the Nature Conservancy and the World Resources Institute on panel discussions to show how they can work together to become a better sustainability solution. After all, Voss said, those traditional conservation groups are using the same statistics and have the same end goal as GFI.
“Investors are trying to reduce the risks through their whole portfolio, including the companies that they invest in, and that’s a really effective lever of change in terms of them being the shareholders of companies.”
Policy director, FAIRR Initiative
Besides Eat Just’s meat tasting, the Food Systems Pavilion also featured other companies demonstrating how the food system connects with sustainability. Gabriel Levesque-Tremblay, co-founder and chief technical officer of cultivated wagyu beef company Orbillion Bio, participated in a panel discussion to talk about cultivated meat with Aleph Farms CEO Didier Toubia.
Levesque-Tremblay said that many people at COP27 seemed to know basic information about cultivated meat, such as what it is and the way it was created. “I was surprised how little they needed education on that. They knew,” he said. “What they wanted to know [was] what the relation is between food and climate. That was unclear for some.”
In Levesque-Tremblay’s panel, a lot of the questions came from people asking whether cultivated meat is targeting traditional farming. On the video, they appear somewhat hostile toward cultivated meat.
But Levesque-Tremblay said he didn’t take away any negativity about wagyu beef. Orbillion Bio positions itself as a more sustainable option to high-end beef, not an entity that will put the cattle industry out of business.
“I felt like people have so much curiosity towards it,” Levesque-Tremblay said. “And at the end of the day, food is a choice, right? You will always be able to eat whatever you want on the market if it's available.”
A personal politics ‘hot potato’
Jan Dutkiewicz, a policy fellow at Harvard Law School, said the scholarly research on the connections between food and sustainability in the last decade have made it impossible to keep this discussion off the table.
On a policy level, Dutkiewicz said, people have historically been reticent to engage with food. “People treat it as a bit of a hot potato,” he said. “You can acknowledge that it’s a problem, but then you want to pass it on, rather than dwell on it because it’s a politically unpopular thing to deal with.”
Dutkiewicz said it’s easy to point a finger at faceless entities that are seen as sustainability issues — oil companies, fracking operations, car companies — and say they are problematic. It’s also easy to look at Big Food and say companies are making choices that are detrimental.
“Drill down into the fact that we need major production level changes, that we may need dietary changes, or changes to what’s available on supermarket shelves or the choice architecture within institutional food settings, and so on and so forth,” Dutkiewicz said. “Once it gets personal, I think it starts being politically tricky.”
That makes it difficult to discuss, Dutkiewicz said. People essentially cast their vote for different ranges of food products three times a day. Food isn’t just about what people prefer; it comes with questions around health, the way it is produced and access.
“The more you’re talking about what people might perceive as personal sacrifice, the more difficult it gets — which is why, be it meat, or sugar or fat are so difficult to talk about, or legislate, or whatnot,” Dutkiewicz said.
Eat Just’s Tetrick said the company, which makes plant-based Just Egg, the top-selling egg substitute in the U.S., has done policy work behind the scenes for years to get around personal politics. The company, he said, welcomes leaders — governors, senators, department and ministry heads — to show not just what Eat Just can do in terms of food, but what the company can do for governments.
“I want a senator from X state to understand what making meat and eggs is, without requiring an animal,” he said. “How that actually can mean thousands, tens of thousands of jobs in their particular state.
“I want a minister or a prime minister of a country to understand that investing lots of energy in building a new meat infrastructure is good for food security,” Tetrick continued. “It’s really important to build that kind of resiliency. It’s a way to develop their economy.”
“The more you’re talking about what people might perceive as personal sacrifice, the more difficult it gets — which is why, be it meat, or sugar or fat are so difficult to talk about, or legislate, or whatnot.”
Policy fellow, Harvard Law School
Too often plant-based food is polarized in the political discussion as a radical leftist idea. But Just Egg is made in a factory in Appleton, Minnesota, located in a Republican district with residents who voted for Donald Trump for president.
They “don't really care about whether it’s a vegan egg or not,” Tetrick said. “They care [about] are we providing jobs? Are we providing equity or are we providing insurance? Are we bringing energy to the town? …If more and more alternative proteins from plant-based to cultivated can show those kinds of results, I think that really does help to activate policymakers, sometimes more than then than these other things.”
Taking the next step
While many participants at COP27 discussed the food system, Dutkiewicz said that food being “on the agenda” by itself doesn’t mean much. There were no sweeping policies or commitments that came out of the conference to make a big change.
“It’s more just that a lot of ideas got in front of people,” Dutkiewicz said. “And what’s done with that is unclear.”
The new spotlight on sustainability issues in food and beverage on its own can only do so much. The annual Coller FAIRR’s Protein Producer Index, released last month, showed the food system has a long way to go in terms of responding to sustainability issues.
Only 14% of the largest protein companies in the world are disclosing all of their emissions — from both animal and feed farming — and companies are unprepared to adapt to biodiversity targets. More than half of all companies — 55% — are ranked “high risk” in the index.
While these results are not necessarily promising, Wright said they have been getting better during the last five years FAIRR has produced the index report. She expects the results will continue to improve based on the larger focus on sustainability and several nations starting to call for emissions disclosures.
Israel’s government declared food tech with an emphasis on alternative proteins as one of its five national priorities. In the U.S., where government policy generally has stayed away from endorsing alternative proteins, President Biden signed an executive order in 2022 making biotechnology a national priority in a variety of fields, including food.
“I think it’s also clear that it’s an all-hands-on-deck [issue],” Voss said. “It’s not going to be solved by one magic sector. It’s not gonna be solved by government, or just by private sector or just by the civil society. It has to be all those.”
Too often, Voss said, new technology and alternative proteins have been pitted against the incumbent industry. Instead the policy approach should be similar to how energy transition policy has been approached. Those who work in traditional food could become incentivized to become more sustainable in their practices — changing the crops they grow, learning more about technology to make protein production better for the environment, working toward creating more sustainable jobs in food production.
“That’s how GFI is trying to engage and trying to convene and trying to get policies that actually really help this transition in a really smart way,” Voss said.
Non-governmental policy groups, scientists, researchers and companies big and small that participate in the space also can help drive change. Dinesh said that is why there were more than 200 organizations at the Food Systems Pavilion at COP27: They all had potential solutions to parts of the larger problem.
"It’s an all-hands-on-deck [issue]. It’s not going to be solved by one magic sector. It’s not gonna be solved by government, or just by private sector or just by the civil society. It has to be all those.”
Vice president of communications, Good Food Institute
“That’s kind of showing that things can be done differently. We’re doing it,” Dinesh said. “From an advocacy perspective, it kind of changes your narrative, because if you just keep saying, ‘This is important,’ for the last 10 years, at some point, someone's asking, ‘But so what?’”
In 2022, the Good Food Institute published a report looking at the state of national policies dealing with alternative proteins across the globe. The organization produced the report for information’s sake but also to stoke some competition, Voss said. If countries can see what others have done in a clear and concise report, it may spur them to do more in the name of global competitiveness and food security.
The international developments toward more alternative-protein-friendly policies and continued exposure for food and agriculture give Voss reason to be optimistic.
“I definitely think that the seeds that were planted — pun intended — in 2022, and even in the years leading up to that,” she said, “I think 2023 will absolutely see many of those seeds start to germinate and break through the surface.”
Article top image credit: Courtesy of Eat Just
Why General Mills is embarking on a farmer-driven regenerative agriculture strategy
By: Chris Casey• Published April 21, 2023
While the term “regenerative agriculture” has become a central tenet of Big Food’s goal to lower its carbon footprint, to some critics, it lacks a universal definition that has opened it up to skepticism.
But General Mills says its use of the term is less about setting hard and fast rules and more about listening to the farmers who are familiar with their land.
The cereal and snacks giant — which in 2020 set a goal to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 30% by 2030 — launched its annual sustainability report this week where it called regenerative agriculture the “most promising solution to reach our climate goals.” The term is defined by General Mills as a farming approach that captures atmospheric carbon in order to sequester it.
“We’re not looking for a checklist of things to do,” said Mary Jane Melendez, the company’s chief sustainability officer. “It’s not just about strengthening one key ingredient, but about looking at the farm as a living ecosystem and looking to maximize its potential.”
The company said regenerative agriculture is being driven by the outcomes it can produce. General Mills has been educated by the farmers it sources from, said Melendez, who has worked at the cereal maker for 17 years and took over its environmental operations in 2019.
The maker of Cheerios and Cinnamon Toast Crunch believes its sustainability strategy is paying off.
In 2022, it adopted an additional 120,700 acres of regenerative farmland, bringing its total to 235,000 acres, according to its annual sustainability report. General Mills also said 92% of its packaging is recyclable or reusable, and 87% of its operations use renewable energy sources.
The overall strategy for how farmers can adopt the practices differs based on the region and what techniques they are able to implement into their supply chain, said Jay Watson, the company’s senior leader of global impact initiatives.
“We think some of the beauty of regenerative agriculture, and regeneration more broadly, is that it is more of a process and a spectrum,” Watson said. “So it's kind of hard to put into a box.”
The annual sustainability report adds that General Mills still needs to better integrate farmer and community outcomes “as our initial conceptualization of regenerative agriculture has overemphasized ecological outcomes.”
Some of the practices the company’s farmers enact include reducing tillage and fertilizer usage and adding cover crops, Watson said.
The farmers are analyzing several plants that grow in the same field and seeing how the crops perform differently compared to a large single-crop field, according to Watson.
“It’s context-specific because certain things that work in southern Minnesota are not going to work in California and northeast Saskatchewan, but they are all connected by advancing the principles,” he said.
Some companies enacting regenerative agriculture programs focus on getting certified by a third-party organization. Melendez said General Mills isn’t interested in this because it doesn’t want to pigeonhole its approach that involves different crops and farming operations.
How food companies can avoid ‘greenwashing’
While many companies claim to be adopting regenerative agriculture practices, some analysts fear the lack of a clear definition results in greenwashing. A recent report fromagriculture group the Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU) said this causes confusion, misrepresentations and skepticism for consumers about what sustainable farming practices are able to achieve.
In a statement to Food Dive, the FOLU report’s author, Theodora Ewer, said in order to mitigate greenwashing, food companies should set their climate targets based on their ability to achieve positive results.
“Food companies should align around an outcomes-based framework and standardized set of metrics to assess how regenerative agriculture practices can lead to positive outcomes in different contexts,” Ewer said.
According to General Mills, a key factor in its approach is being able to quantify how the biodiversity in its soil — including the variety of bacteria and fungi — has improved.
“If we want to talk about regenerative agriculture, we have to measure regeneration. Can we demonstrate that these approaches are context-based and improving the outcomes of regenerating? We feel that’s very important,” Watson said.
Melendez said General Mills has learned from the farmers it sources from on what the most effective approach for their supply chains is, as many of them have already been utilizing the methods for years. That way, she said, the company has been able to translate approaches down to a local context.
“We've taken those learnings and those insights from the farmers who have been doing this far longer than we have to craft a definition that is open, inviting, and allows for context-based approaches,” she said.
Cameron Hodgins, who runs a family-owned livestock farm in Canada, began working with General Mills in 2019. In 2022, its regenerative program invested $2.3 million to advance its sustainable farming efforts in the country. General Mills said his operations are part of the oat supply the company sources from. Hodgins told Food Dive he was moving toward implementing regenerative practices prior to linking with the company.
The most beneficial part of the program, Hodgins added, is the farmer network that the company has helped to connect him with.
“It’s really opened the door to get to know people from different commodity groups and create some pretty close relationships,” Hodgins said.
“We think some of the beauty of regenerative agriculture and regeneration more broadly is that it is more of a process and a spectrum. So it's kind of hard to put into a box."
Senior leader of global impact initiatives, General Mills
Watson and Melendez said General Mills prioritizes bringing farmers together as a key part of its regenerative agriculture pilot programs because of the added value of hearing from others dealing with the same crops. One way it did this was by creating a private Facebook group for the farmers to utilize.
“It was a safe space for them to connect and share challenges, because this isn’t always an easy transition for farmers, especially when you’re used to having very clean farms where the rows are straight,” Melendez said.
Hodgins said the broader regenerative agriculture project could provide a long-term economic benefit for farmers if implemented properly, starting on smaller operations.
“We see a lot of dollars coming out of very small enterprises that are taking up less than an acre,” Hodgins said. “So if we could replicate that on different farms where you might open it up for different generations to be involved, that's where I see a lot of opportunity.”
The sustainability of food products also is proving to be lucrative as consumers increasingly value it when they shop. More than 40% of respondents in a survey by consulting group Kearney stated they always or nearly always consider the environmental impact of their food purchases.
The company believes that through regenerative practices, farmers stand to gain financially. Watson said some of its farmers have been able to decrease their expenses by abandoning synthetic fertilizers.
“Instead, they’re able to harness the power of nature to help drive some of these ecosystem services in harmony with nature,” Watson said.
Article top image credit: Permission granted by Cameron Hodgins
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