Risk factors

Waste and pollution

Farming 70 billion animal each year is creating localized pollution hotspots, with extensive air and water pollution generated by synthetic fertilizer use and improperly disposed manure. While there are no global estimates, a farm with just 4,000 dairy cows can produce around 37.5 million gallons of manure and wastewater per year.

Key stats

94
%
of meat and dairy companies, valued at $273 billion and with revenues of $260 billion, categorised as 'high risk', including six producers which provide no disclosure on how they manage pollution linked to fertilizer use and manure.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, manure is the primary source of nitrogen and phosphorous to surface and groundwater. The US is one of the world’s largest producers of beef, pork, poultry and dairy. Nitrate and phosphorus loads from animal and feed agriculture along the Mississippi River is thought to have created a the largest ever ‘dead zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico. This refers to overgrowth of algae from excessive nutrients that kills all aquatic life.

Manure can be a nutrient, but the scale of production today makes it a pollutant. Currently, the standard practice to dispose manure is to store it in open lagoons and/or piles and apply it as fertilizer in fields next to industrial facilities. Excessive application of manure not only harms local ecosystems and water sources, it also leads to poor health outcomes for communities that live next to these facilities due to poor air quality and groundwater contamination.

Communities are beginning to push back, with increased incidences of protests and lawsuits against meat and dairy producers. In 2018-19, Smithfield Foods, subsidiary of Hong Kong-listed WH Group, faced up to 26 lawsuits for nuisances suffered by neighbours due to hog waste generated. Penalties totalled over $550 million at the time of writing. In July 2019, property owners and organisations filed a lawsuit against Tyson for negligence, nuisance and wanton conduct due to a wastewater spill from one of their facilities.

We assess meat and dairy companies on their targets and disclosure on wastewater discharges from their slaughter/processing facilities as well as nutrient/manure management plans in their supply chain.

Results

  • 13% average score for meat and dairy companies on managing water pollution.
  • 66% demonstrate little to no awareness of the need to manage manure sustainably.
  • 0 companies meet SASB’s standards for the sector, which requires disclosure of the amount of manure generated.