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Food Giant Pledges Undermined by “Plodding” Meat and Dairy Industry on COVID-19 and Climate

11 November 2020

New data from $25 trillion investor network shows climate commitments of food brands such as McDonald’s and Nestlé undermined by supplier failings

  • Coller FAIRR Protein Producer Index: New data published for the world’s only comprehensive sustainability assessment of large meat, fish and dairy producers.

  • 86% of major meat and dairy suppliers failing to declare or set meaningful reduction targets for all greenhouse gas emissions. Undermining climate commitments from household brands such as McDonald’s and Nestlé.

  • 73% of animal protein firms graded ‘High Risk’ on pandemic-related criteria for failing to prevent future zoonotic diseases like COVID-19.

(London, 11 November 2020). New data from the award-winning Coller FAIRR Protein Producer Index today finds that the world’s largest meat, fish and dairy producers are undermining global efforts to control both climate change and the spread of zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19.

The Index assesses the 60 publicly-listed animal protein producers, worth a combined $338bn, which provide many of the burgers, nuggets and ready-meals on our tables and supermarket shelves. Firms are ranked against ten environmental, social and governance (ESG)-related criteria including GHG emissions, deforestation, antibiotic usage, working conditions and investment in alternative proteins. The results are presented in an interactive digital tool to help investors integrate ESG data and assess company performance.

Norwegian fish farmers, Mowi, Canadian packaged proteins firm, Maple Leaf Foods and aquaculture firm, Bakkafrost, are the top three performers in the Index in 2020 and the only companies to rank as ‘low risk’ for investors. Four of the five poorest performing firms are from Asia.

Climate commitments undermined

Many well-known food brands have recently made vocal climate commitments. McDonald’s has pledged a 31% reduction in emissions intensity by 2030 and Nestlé to reach zero net emissions by 2050. However, the Coller FAIRR Index finds that McDonald’s and Nestlé currently use suppliers like Fujian Sunner (China), Seaboard Corporation (US) and Cherkizovo Group (Russia) who score 1% or less on the Index’s GHG criteria, meaning they do not declare any GHG emissions or have no public targets to reduce them.

In total, three in four (78%) of the 60 Index companies do not declare or set meaningful reduction targets for all GHG emissions (Scope 1, 2 and 3), rising to 86% among just meat and dairy suppliers (i.e. excluding dedicated fish farmers).  Furthermore, 35% of Index companies reported an annual increase in emissions. Today’s findings suggest that the climate pledges of major high-street brands are being severely undermined by the animal protein supply chain’s failure to act on climate change.

There are, however, also signs of progress. A quarter (15) of Index companies now give a full picture of their climate impact by disclosing ‘Scope 1, 2’ and, crucially, ‘Scope 3’ emissions (which may, for example, include emissions caused by livestock feed). Seven companies have now committed to [or have now set] a ‘Science-based Target (SBT)’ for emissions reductions. (though it is worth noting that in other high-emitting industries (such as automobiles, electric utilities, mining and more), companies (30, 39 and 15 respectively) have committed to SBTs.

Failing to prevent future pandemics

As part of their flagship Index, FAIRR produced a ‘Pandemic Ranking’ based on the seven elements of the Index’s criteria which are seen as vital to preventing future zoonotic pandemics – including worker safety, food safety, animal welfare and antibiotic stewardship. This year’s Index found that 44 (73%) of the 60 Index companies are graded as ‘High Risk’ on these ‘Pandemic criteria’ and therefore are not doing enough to avoid creating and spreading a future pandemic.

It has been very clear throughout the COVID crisis that many company policies, standards and engagements on worker safety has not gone far enough to effectively safeguard workers and mitigate supply chain disruption.  To help address this, FAIRR is announcing that it launching a stand-alone engagement with eight of the global meat producers from the Index, including companies from the US, UK, Brazil, China and Japan, all of whom have experienced disruption. For example, the US company, Tyson Foods, has seen more than 8% of its US workforce infected with COVID-19 and experienced thirteen different ‘controversies*’ related to COVID this year.

Investors are also concerned that 42 companies (70%) have ranked as high risk for antibiotic stewardship, which some investors see as a proxy for how well an animal protein firm can manage pandemic risk. Only one Index firm assesses antimicrobial resistance risk for its workforce (i.e. 2% of the 57 firms that use antibiotics).  Widespread antibiotic resistance has been cited by the World Health Organization as one of the next big global threats to human health.

Jeremy Coller, Founder of the $25 trillion FAIRR network and CIO of Coller Capital said:

“If global animal agriculture was a country it would be the second-highest emitter of greenhouse gases. FAIRR’s data shows three in four global meat and dairy giants are hiding the full extent of their climate emissions or failing to set comprehensive targets to reduce them. Factory farms are undermining both the climate ambitions of high-street brands and the viability of the Paris Agreement.

The COVID pandemic pushed an already under pressure meat and dairy industry to a tipping point, with many investors losing their appetite for the sector unless standards on sustainability are raised.”

Other findings among Index firms include:

  • Alternative proteins: A 46% rise in the number of Index companies meeting best practice on alternative proteins this year: 22 firms in 2020, compared to 15 last year, and five in 2018. The Canadian firm, Maple Leaf, is the only company to achieve a 100% score in this category, and have set a target to achieve $3 billion in plant protein sales by 2029.

  • Antibiotics: 70% (42 firms) rank as ‘High Risk’ for antibiotic stewardship. Although it is encouraging that four companies started disclosing antibiotics data this year. All beef or dairy firms in the Index rank as high risk and fail to disclose information on antibiotics usage.

  • Waste Management: 49 of 50 (98%) of meat and dairy companies rank as ‘High Risk’ and do not discuss metrics or targets to manage wastewater or other potential pollutants. This is the risk factor with the second-lowest average score among all Index companies.

  • Deforestation: 72% (43) of all companies are ranked as ‘High Risk’ on deforestation. Only two of the 50 meat and dairy companies (excluding fish farmers) have a comprehensive policy to address or mitigate deforestation in all regions in which they source soy. Nordea AssetManagement recently dropped Index company, JBS, from all its funds over concerns stemming from the company’s handling of deforestation and other sustainability issues.

  • Water use: This year, seven companies are conducting risk assessments for water use in owned facilities compared to two last year. However, eight of 50 (16%) meat and dairy companies still have no disclosure relating to water use and a majority of companies do not measure and report on water scarcity.

  • Animal welfare: 41 companies (68%) are categorised as ‘High Risk’ on animal welfare, with more Poultry & Egg companies ranking as ‘High Risk’ than any other protein. Only eight companies in this year’s Index rank as ‘low risk’ and many still have no disclosure on animal welfare metrics.

  • Governance: Two-thirds (67%) of companies rank as ‘high risk’ on sustainability governance, a new risk factor introduced to the Index this year. Only two Index companies are categorised as low risk: Aquaculture firms Bakkafrost and Mowi.

  • Working conditions: Over half of Index firms (57%) rank as high risk on working conditions. Only 28% (17) of Index firms report having worker representatives on their health and safety committees.

  • Food safety: As the risk factor with the highest average score, 43% of Index companies rank as medium risk on food safety. 75% disclose that facilities have achieved certification recognised by the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI). However, only eight companies report that 100% of facilities are GFSI certified.

Other investor comments

Michaela Zhirova, Head of ESG Research and Products**, Nordea Asset Management said:

As responsible investors, we want to deliver attractive returns while having a positive impact on the world and the Coller FAIRR Index helps us understand how our investments in the food sector are performing on sustainability issues. From preventing deforestation and reducing emissions to food safety to worker safety, it is clear that the animal agriculture sector as a whole needs to rapidly and radically improve. It is encouraging to see pockets of best practice emerging, including the adoption of science-based targets and increased investments in alternative proteins, but investors must continue to push for faster improvements across the board because the sustainability performance of the meat and dairy sector as a whole is far from optimal.”

Jenn-Hui Tan, Global Head of Stewardship and Sustainable Investing at Fidelity International said:  

“As we look to rebuild economies in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, institutional investors have an opportunity to use their influence as responsible stewards of capital to ensure that corporate growth doesn’t come at the expense of the long-term health of our natural world and the societies that inhabit it.

In light of the need to contain the spread of future zoonotic diseases, investors will be particularly concerned by the findings that more than 50% of companies in the 2020 Index are classified as high risk in the ‘Working Conditions’ category, and 70% are classed as high risk in the ‘Antibiotics use’ category. A lack of awareness of these risks poses a threat to profits, our planet and the population, so a transition to a more sustainable food system is more urgent than ever.” 

Hiro Mizuno, Former CIO of the Government Pension Investment Fund in Japan (GPIF) and Member of PRI board said:

“As stewards of capital, institutional investors have to pay attention to how companies make a profit – and make sure it’s not at the expense of the environment or wider society as it will impact their portfolio return in the long run. The findings of this year’s Coller FAIRR Protein Producer Index, therefore, make concerning reading for investors, showing that far too many of our meat, fish and dairy products are being produced without due regard to greenhouse gas emissions, antibiotic resistance or water use. The global animal protein sector deemed to  put both future profits and the planet at risk if it does not improve its sustainability performance.”

Nikki Gwilliam-Beeharee, Director of ESG research, Invesco said:

The food sector is facing unprecedented challenges including being impacted by climate change, COVID 19 and shifting consumer preferences. As investors, we need quality insights and accurate data to assess how ESG performance might affect companies in our portfolios. The Coller FAIRR Index is, therefore, a useful tool and at Invesco, this helps inform our ESG research and company engagement efforts.”

Jerry Goh, Investment Manager, Aberdeen Standard Investments (Singapore) said:

“There is enormous growth potential in Asia’s animal protein sector but a failure to measure and manage sustainability risks from emissions to antibiotics is likely to ruin investors’ appetite. The fact that 9 of the bottom 10 performers in this Index are based in Asia is especially concerning. The global animal protein industry is at a crossroads. On one hand, there are some signs of improvement with previously poor performers turning around their ESG performance and some greater commitments from food companies on Scope 3 and science-based emissions targets. On the other, it’s clear from FAIRR’s data that the global meat and dairy industry, and the Asian suppliers, in particular, have more room to improve in order to secure the trust of both markets and wider society in their management of critical risks like climate change.”

Frank Wagemans, Senior Engagement Specialist at Achmea Investment Management said: 

“It’s estimated that each year about 14.5% of global GHG emissions can be attributed to livestock farming. This means that transformation within the animal protein sector will prove fundamental in tackling climate change as well as for managing climate-related material risks. A topic that is increasingly on the radar of institutional investors worldwide.

FAIRR’s findings that 35% of protein producers report an annual increase in emissions this year and that 78% haven’t declared or set meaningful GHG reduction targets is a clear sign that the food industry needs to step up its efforts and is a real concern for investors. FAIRR’s research highlights key areas where constructive investor engagement is invaluable in strengthening companies’ commitments not only on climate change, but also on topics such as biodiversity, health and water.”

Thais Aleluia, Emerging Markets Credit Analyst at AllianceBernstein said: 

“Companies with strong ESG practices including a commitment to reduce their carbon footprint reduce default risk. While other emissions-intensive sectors such as energy and automobiles are increasing the pace towards transition, the progress of the meat and dairy sector on issues such as greenhouse gases and deforestation is barely noticeable – especially in emerging markets. This slow rate of progress raises a significant red flag for credit investors.”

Notes to editor

For more information or exclusive interviews with a FAIRR spokesperson or the investors involved, please contact:

  • Sophie Grant, ESG Communications,

  • t: + 44 (0)7817 371323 | e:;

  • Access to all data is available on request via the Coller FAIRR Index microsite. Overall league table below.

  • Investor action on COVID-19: FAIRR’s ‘Working conditions engagement’ will ask investors to write to eight companies and ask them to publicly disclose information to strengthen (1) governance and (2) worker representation to support and protect labour rights and worker safety in internal operations and suppliers across the value chain for all workers including workers in a vulnerable condition.


All companies are given an overall ranking of ‘low’, ‘medium’, ‘high’ risk’ or ‘best practice’, based on their scores against ten sustainability factors. These are: Governance, Greenhouse gas emissions; Deforestation and biodiversity loss; Water scarcity and use; Waste and pollution; Antibiotics; Animal welfare; Working conditions, Food safety, and alternative proteins. More details of the methodology are available online. All statistics are based on publicly available data from the reporting period 01 January 2019- 31 August 2020. Valuations are based on market capitalisation figures as of 7 August 2020. The seven criteria used in the ‘Pandemic Ranking’ are: Antibiotics stewardship, managing deforestation and biodiversity loss, working conditions, animal welfare, waste and pollution, food safety and investment in alternative proteins. A Pandemic Ranking’ league table is available below.  This year, the FAIRR Initiative has also used an AI-powered tool to gather data on reported controversy events related to Index companies (e.g., product recalls, working conditions and legal and regulatory alerts). However, this information does not inform the companies’ overall performance score this year.

About FAIRR 

The FAIRR Initiative is a collaborative investor network, established by the Jeremy Coller Foundation. Its mission is to build a global network of investors who are focused and engaged on the risks linked to intensive animal production within the broader food system. FAIRR helps investors to exercise their influence as responsible stewards of capital to engage and safeguard the long-term value of their investment portfolios. This is the third year of the Coller FAIRR Protein Producer Index, which was shortlisted by the UN-supported PRI as ESG Research Report of the Year.