In the United States, about a quarter of all food produced is consumed directly. That includes fruits, vegetables, wheat, corn, soybeans, nuts, barley and more. A smaller part goes to biofuels and ethanol. And the rest – about two-thirds of all harvests – goes to… animal food.
A lot of that food is made of up by-products that people cannot or do not want to eatbut that still makes cattle, and feeding cattle, the largest land use in the whole country. Nearly 41 percent of the nearly 2.4 billion acres of land in the US is used to house livestock, graze or grow food for animal feed. Cropland takes up about one-fifth of all land, and even then, much of the crops are still used for animal feed.
This causes some problems. First, that’s a lot of land that can be used for other crops or housing or some projects that don’t revolve around livestock. Second, livestock emissions account for approximately 11 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the country, as well as across 64 percent of the ammonia emissions in their waste, leading to acidification of our shared living environment. Finally, unless growers are particularly committed to regenerative farming when it comes to growing forage, much of that land is monocrop, leading to less pest resistance, more soil erosion and other problems associated with less species diversity.
But with the Majority of Americans eat meat regularlyand with the amount consumed continues to rise, these problems will not go away. There are plenty of advocates for reducing the amount of meat in your diet, and many Americans are already doing that. But that just isn’t enough on its own.
However, there are some companies that are going a different route – or at least trying to. By 2030, animal nutrition and feed company Nutreco aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent. Earlier, by 2025, Nutreco wants to source all marine ingredients in responsible supply of certified fisheries. It is also committed to ensuring that its plant-based ingredient supply is deforestation-free. Nutrecos Road map 2025 report maps the company’s goals for the coming years and beyond.
These goals are ambitious, but not unrealistic. They seem in line with what many companies want to achieve in the next ten years. What is not standard, however, is that Nutreco recognizes the ways in which it has failed to meet its past objectives.
Located in Netherlands, Nutreco operates in 37 countries around the world. The aim is to make more sustainable animal feed, partly because animal feed is such a large part of agriculture. “Feed is probably the largest source of food production emissions,” said Jose Villalon, Nutreco’s Corporate Sustainability Officer. These emissions come from protein sources such as fish, poultry, pork and dairy, but also from staple crops such as maize and soybeans. Making a change in the world of animal feed could thus have a major impact on the environmental goals for a region.
That is why Villalon says that Nutreco has published its roadmap and provided clear figures on its goals. Bearing in mind the old adage “you can’t manage what you don’t measure,” Villalon says the company wanted to move beyond soft targets and get specific about what it wanted to do and how it planned to get there. The three pillars are focused on animal health and antibiotic use, emission reduction and diversity and inclusiveness within the company. For the second pillar, which looks at greenhouse gas emissions, Nutreco has plans to work on internal processes and emissions. The third phase of that pillar looks at other suppliers it works with, which is more difficult to monitor, but just as important. “We are still working on the systems we need to set up to ask our suppliers to report their emissions to us annually so that we can report them and work with them to reduce emissions,” explains Villalon. “It will be a few years before we feel like we have the right measurements and reporting platform for our supply chain.”
When Nutreco was planning the roadmap, Villalon thought about similar documents from other companies – and he wanted to change something. “I’m really tired of reading everyone else’s sustainability reports, where it all looks so rosy and successful,” Villalon says. “The reality is that we are dealing with a lot of issues that are big and cannot be solved by one company in one year. Deforestation, child labour, slavery, labour, emission reductions. And so it got really frustrating.” So Villalon set up a chapter in the company’s sustainability report share the hiccups and failures of the company. “It turned out to be the most popular chapter in our annual reports. That was an eye-opener for us, that we just have to be transparent.”
And the company doesn’t just welcome internal reviews or transparency. It doesn’t shy away from external criticism, and that’s exactly what the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) did. In an analysis of the Nutreco roadmap, Katherine Devine, director of business case development for WWF’s Markets Institute, broke down where she saw the company taking positive steps and where it should go further. Of Nutreco’s 2020 goals, she wrote that some of them were “largely impossible to measure and not bold enough to achieve the proportional climate impact”. Conversely, of the 2025 targets, Devine says she’s optimistic the company “has shifted from siled sustainability goals to embedding it in corporate strategy and operations.”
Devine goes through each point of the Nutreco roadmap and analyzes it from a business and sustainability perspective. “If we can demonstrate a positive business impact, whether that’s reduced risk or increased profitability, [companies] are more likely to adapt to large-scale changes faster,” she says.
“Soy in particular is very susceptible to deforestation. And if you have deforestation in your supply chain… soy can increase your emissions tenfold, sometimes even more,” says Devine. However, she clarifies that not every soy production has the same risk. That’s why it’s important for companies to share where they get their ingredients from, so there are measurable standards.
That’s why Devine hopes other companies will follow Nutreco’s lead, regardless of size or product. “If we don’t work with players across the food industry spectrum, regardless of their track record, we won’t meet our goals to slow the pace of climate change,” says Devine. “There are a lot of companies that are moving forward and doing their own thing. And someone else could have done the same thing and realized it didn’t work five years ago. We can be more proactive in sharing successes and failures… As this more objective third party, [we have] the ability to bring companies together that would otherwise be unwilling to collaborate and share those lessons.”
For Nutreco’s side, Villalon hopes that outside surveillance by organizations such as the WWF will keep them on track. “They’re calling us,” Villalon says. ‘And I think that’s fair. And that’s exactly what other companies need to be held to… One of the things that keeps me up at night is all these companies or governments setting these goals that are super ambitious, and I’m afraid we’re not going to to do. make it and they just make these goals sound good, sound bold. But if we don’t take it seriously to reach them, we can just kick it down the road. And unfortunately kicking the can against climate change is not an option.”