Overview

The Meat industry faces severe physical, regulatory and reputational risks stemming from water scarcity and water pollution. Effluent from processing facilities and poor manure management from confined animal feeding operations both discharge harmful pollutants into waterways, while runoff from fertilizer used to grow animal feed is a major driver of harmful algal blooms. The industry’s reliance on corn and soy for livestock feed leaves it vulnerable to commodity price volatility risk, which has been exacerbated as climate change has increased the frequency of extreme weather events.

Despite its outsized exposure to water risks, the Meat industry is doing the least to manage them, on average. While the industry’s average score has improved slightly since 2017, it remains the lowest-performing of the four industries benchmarked.

Meat

MeatGrid

Only a selection of indicators are represented. See the scoring guidance here.

 

Areas of Strength

Water use reduction targets

Every company other than Sanderson Farms has a target to reduce water use within its operations. However, none of the targets disclosed are differentiated by risk (i.e., none of the targets are more ambitious for sites within regions of high water stress). 

Water accounting for owned operations

Four of the seven Meat companies (Hormel, JBS, Smithfield and Tyson) reported basic water accounting data (including water use and wastewater discharge) for their owned operations. 
 

Priority for improvement: Addressing water quality

Given the water intensity of industrial livestock production, Meat companies are profoundly exposed to risks driven by climate change and water scarcity. In addition, as the primary driver of several of the country’s most intractable water pollution challenges, the industry must act with greater urgency to reduce its impacts on water quality across its facilities, contract operations and feed sourcing. 

Beef, poultry and pork slaughtering and processing facilities in the U.S. routinely violate federal wastewater discharge permits and other water pollution regulations. While the Meat industry struggles to achieve regulatory compliance, there are many examples of other food companies setting wastewater discharge standards for their facilities that are more stringent than required by law.

Confined animal feeding operations (or CAFOs) – whether directly owned by Meat companies or by their suppliers – face pollution risks through issues such as seepage of manure into groundwater, and/or runoff of overapplied manure onto nearby fields and/or the overflow of manure lagoons during heavy rain or flood events. The impacts of meat production on water quality are likely to be exacerbated as flooding becomes more frequent and severe due to climate change. 

Meat companies can enhance the resilience of their supply chains while catalyzing improved environmental performance by making sustainable-feed sourcing commitments with an explicit focus on water quality. Yet, only two out of the seven Meat companies benchmarked have done so to date.

Smithfield Foods achieved its goal to ensure that 75% of grain purchased by the company (farmed on roughly 450,000 acres) was grown with efficient fertilizer and soil health practices. The company is still progressing towards a greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goal that includes soil health within its feed supply chain. 

Tyson Foods has committed to improving fertilizer practices on two million acres of corn by the end of 2020, which represents enough land to grow feed for all of the company’s annual broiler chicken production. Tyson has initiated two pilot programs on 500,000 acres of corn and is leveraging cloud-based agricultural technologies to help farmers improve sustainable agriculture practices. 

In May 2017, Tyson announced a collaboration with the World Resources Institute to develop context-based water targets for its facilities and its supply chain. The company disclosed that these targets would address water scarcity and water pollution and be informed by local watershed risks. However, two and a half years since announcing its intention to set these targets, Tyson has yet to make them public.

 

Scoring Guidance for Selected Indicators

Board oversight over water risk management
0 points Public disclosures do not describe formal board oversight of sustainability or water risks.
1 point Board or board committee has oversight over “sustainability,”  “environment,” “corporate social responsibility” or other related terms, but not water specifically.
3 points Board is regularly briefed by management on water risks. 
6 points Board is regularly briefed by management on water risks and oversight over water risks is explicitly codified in board committee charter. 
Ties compensation of senior executives to water targets & strategy
0 points Public disclosures do not identify any relationship between water or sustainability performance and the compensation of senior executives.
3 points Water is tied to executive compensation implicitly (e.g., through a sustainability or climate target).
6 points Water is tied to executive compensation explicitly.
Assesses water risks in direct operations
0 points Public disclosures do not describe a process by which the company identifies whether its owned operations are in high-risk watersheds. 
2 points Company uses third-party tools or data sets (or equivalent internal tools) to identify facilities located in watersheds identified as water-stressed (inclusive of water scarcity & quality).
4 points Analysis identifies facilities in watersheds facing a broader set of risk factors such as impaired ecosystems, greater regulatory scrutiny or limited local access to water. 
Assesses water risks in agricultural supply chain
0 points Public disclosures do not describe a process by which the company identifies whether its agricultural inputs are sourced from high-risk watersheds. 
2 points Company uses third-party tools or data sets (or equivalent internal tools) to identify agricultural inputs or sourcing regions in high-risk watersheds (accounting for water scarcity and water quality).  
5 points Analysis identifies inputs and sourcing in watersheds facing a broader set of risk factors such as impaired ecosystems, greater regulatory scrutiny or limited local access to water.
Has time-bound sustainable-sourcing goals for key commodities
Goals were assessed against the following criteria:  Impact orientation, quantification, commodity breadth and commodity depth (see detailed criteria here).
Provides financial incentives to farmers to adopt agricultural practices to reduce water impacts
0 points Public disclosures do not describe any provision or financial incentives to encourage more sustainable production.
2 points Provides direct financial incentives to producers to encourage adoption of practices that reduce impacts and dependence on water for some agricultural suppliers.
4 points Provides direct financial incentives to producers to encourage adoption of practices that reduce impacts and dependence on water for at least 50% of agricultural suppliers.