U.S. Agriculture

Cargill's Vague Plan to Address its Environmental Destruction Lacks Key Details

Cargill has announced a pledge to improve farming practices on 10 million acres of North American farmland by 2030. In response, Mighty Earth Campaign Director Lucia von Reusner released the following statement: 

“American farmland has been deteriorating rapidly under the onslaught of industrial farming practices that tear up the landscape and pollute water with little regard to the consequences. Cargill’s announcement suggests they are beginning to recognize the urgency of the problem. Unfortunately, Cargill has a history of making ambitious, highly publicized promises to address the damage caused by its supply chains but frequently fails to provide concrete implementation plans or details for follow-through. Americans want and deserve a clear plan explaining how Cargill is going to keep our waters clean, the climate stable, and soils healthy. 

“Cargill has a long track record as one of themost polluting companies in America. Overcoming this reputation will require transparency and clear evidence of verifiable changes that are reported to the public. We urge Cargill to provide clear details for how this promise will be implemented and evaluated, and to provide regular reports on progress. 

“Key details that are missing from Cargill’s pledge include the locations and total number of acres engaged, the types of farming practices that will be implemented, including cover cropping, conservation tillage, fertilizer optimization, buffer strips, and protection for native ecosystems, the environmental outcomes achieved for those acres – with a particular focus on reducing nutrient runoff, and the specific methods for tracking and verifying environmental improvements. 

“This information is necessary for customers, employees, local communities, and financiers to know where and how Cargill is delivering on its sustainability promise.”  

Background:  

The action from Cargill follows a year of campaigning by Mighty Earth and communities across the American Midwest and South concerned about agricultural runoff pollution. Runoff from industrial farms is the largest source of water pollution in the United States, contaminating drinking water for millions of Americans and causing toxic ‘dead zones’ in key waterways. Uncontrolled runoff from industrial agriculture gets flushed down the Mississippi River and is the main source of pollution causing the Gulf of Mexico’s annual dead zone, which regularly expands to an area covering thousands of square miles. Mighty Earth reports have found Cargill to be responsible for water pollution in the United States as well as widespread deforestation across Latin America. As one of the largest agribusiness companies in the world, Cargill plays a major role in shaping global farming practices. 

Additional Resources: 


Stop Destroying the Planet & Shop Responsibly

"As a concerned consumer, I can only do so much when making my purchasing decisions. Ultimately, the responsibility is Stop&Shop’s, so I hope the CEO can make the decision to cut ties with Cargill in an effort to create a more sustainable future for our planet."

- Victoria Deever | Stop & Shop Customer, MA

The meat industry is the leading cause of water pollution and deforestation. A small handful of companies control the meat industry and are responsible for its impact.

In Massachusetts, customers and other community members have recently joined Mighty Earth’s call for Stop & Shop to implement environmental standards for their meat and to cut ties with Cargill, a company responsible for water pollution across the U.S. and deforestation across Latin America.

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Community members are asking Stop & Shop to ensure that shelves are stocked with products from responsible suppliers that are taking care of our environment.

This spring community members took the following actions: 


In 2020, Retailers Must Stop Stocking Environmental Destruction

When customers go grocery shopping, they expect to find quality products that will feed their families and are produced in legal and responsible ways. Yet many supermarkets are buying products from some of the most environmentally destructive suppliers on the planet. Leading retailers are stocking meat from JBS, Tyson, and Cargill, all of which have long track records of environmental destruction and human rights abuses- from destruction of tropical forests and indigenous communities across Latin America to water pollution and soil erosion causing a massive Dead Zone in the Gulf. Supermarkets largely dictate the kinds of food that people have access to, and their buying decisions can therefore mean the difference between healthy ecosystems and ecological destruction. 

Supermarket retailers have spent decades building trust in the communities they serve. But their willingness to turn a blind eye to pollution and deforestation now threatens the customer trust that is core to success. In fact, 81 percent of respondents in a recent poll said that knowing about a company’s environmentally irresponsible business practices would make them less likely to purchase their products.

With the global environment in a state of deep crisis, Mighty Earth is calling for supermarkets to implement robust policies around deforestation, native ecosystem clearing, regenerative farming and water pollution, and to drop contracts with the worst offenders like Cargill. Mighty Earth’s 2020 campaign to hold these retailers accountable is off to an exciting start. 

National Retail Federation

On January 11, the National Retail Federation held the opening ball to its annual “Big Show.” With 38,000 retail professionals in attendance, this trade show is quite literally the largest retail conference on the planet. Mighty Earth volunteers in New York City took the opportunity to call on Stop & Shop and parent company Ahold Delhaize to cut contracts with Cargill, taking center stage at the opening banquet and engaging conference participants in a variety of creative ways.

A video of their speech can be found here:

Costco Shareholder Meeting

Costco is so big that the sourcing decisions made there can literally move entire markets and shape whole industries. Costco brands itself as an eco-conscious company suitable for families who value protecting the planet- yet all the while selling products that do just the opposite. According to Bloomberg research, Costco’s top suppliers include JBS, Cargill, and Tyson- while tissue paper sold through the Charmin, Bounty, and Kirkland brand is made from 100% virgin fiber sourced from Canada’s Boreal forests. 

Together with NRDC, SumOfUs, and Stand.Earth, we attended Costco’s shareholder meeting to call on Costco to adopt strong sustainability policies that ban destruction of native forests and require sustainable agricultural practices throughout its supply chain.

At the shareholder meeting, we turned up with over a dozen volunteers who rallied on the sidewalk, distributed literature, and highlighted Costco’s record to hundreds of shareholders as they drove in. Some of the volunteers even got creative and put up a light projection on the outside of the shareholder meeting. More than 100,000 people have signed petitions over the past year calling on Costco to protect forests, which we delivered to Costco’s CEO.

Stop & Shop

Stop & Shop, a popular East Coast supermarket chain owned by parent company Ahold Delhaize, has also been feeling the heat for its business partnerships with Cargill that are funding widespread destruction of tropical forests and pollution of American waterways. While claiming to be committed to sustainability, Stop & Shop recently signed a contract with Cargill to open a meat processing facility that will supply poultry to Stop & Shop stores.

Mighty Earth partnered with Green Corps to lead a hard-hitting campaign in Stop & Shop home state of Massachusetts. Field organizers have hit the ground running- educating shoppers, gathering petitions, and hosting community events to call on Stop & Shop to cut ties with Cargill and to adopt strict sustainability policies banning destruction of native forests and requiring more sustainable farming practices for all their meat suppliers. 

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Activists Stage Protest at Tyson Shareholder Meeting over Sustainability Concerns

Northwest Arkansas citizens rally for Tyson to “Keep Your Promise” and abide by 2018 sustainability commitments

Springdale, AR -- ​On Thursday morning, over 30 community members and environmentalists rallied outside Tyson’s annual shareholder meeting, voicing concerns that the company has not shown any progress on its promise to reform farming practices that are causing widespread water pollution and climate change. Chanting “what do we want, a livable earth; when do we want it, now,” protestors highlighted the urgency of the planetary crisis underway and called for sweeping changes.

Two years ago, Tyson announced that it would adopt sustainable farming practices on 2 million acres used for animal feed by 2020. This commitment followed months of protests across the country from farmers, shareholders, community leaders, employees, and environmentalists calling on Tyson to take responsibility for cleaning up water pollution caused by its supply chain. With the deadline approaching and no public reports of progress, Mighty Earth volunteers rallied outside the Tyson shareholder meeting, telling executives to “Keep your promise” and implement farming practices that protect soil health, prevent water pollution, and mitigate climate change.

“It is time to look deeply into the personhood of your corporation, to your ethical and moral obligations to the world around you,” ​Reverend Jim Parrish ​said at the rally. “Tyson: there is no more time. The world is on fire, and your actions either fuel our collective death, or begin the healing.”

Meat production is the single largest source of water pollution in the U.S., with runoff from fields that produce animal feeds being the primary source. Mighty Earth is calling on Tyson to only source animal feed from farms that protect soil health, minimize fertilizer usage, mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, and prevent excess runoff from dirtying the waterways, and also to significantly ramp up investments in planet-based proteins.

“It is clear we are in a planetary emergency and need rapid leadership from business to drive solutions. Tyson made a promise last year to fix polluting farming practices that are contaminating our waters and fueling climate change, and we are watching to make sure they deliver,” ​Mighty Earth campaign director Lucia von Reusner​ said.

One month ago, Mighty Earth and Care2.org launched a ​petition​ calling on Tyson to change -- and more than 60,000 people have already signed on. Activists delivered these signatures to Tyson leadership at the shareholder meeting.


Mighty Earth endorses open letter to end child labor in US agriculture

Mighty Earth endorsed an open letter led by the Child Labor Coalition (CLC), of which we are a member, to end child labor in US agriculture. We are proud to support the Children’s Act for Responsible Employment and Farm Safety, H.R. 3394The legislation has been endorsed by 150 organizations.

This is a crucial bill. Between 400,000 and 500,000 children are working in the US farming industry, often exposed to pesticides and routinely exploited. Child labor is not only an issue Mighty Earth campaigns against in cocoa and other tropical commodities. In US agriculture it remains a real, lasting problem – one that makes it harder to eradicate this problem worldwide, given the influence of the US on global trends, laws, and policies.

In the USA, children as young as 12 work in fields as many as 12 hours a day, six months a year. There is no maximum number of hours worked a day, aside from being outside of school hours. Kids are exposed to the sun, harmful pesticides, hazardous conditions, and dangerous work – which frequently threatens their health and lives. Children can experience up to three times greater dangers from exposure to pesticides than adults, due to their size and stage of development. The fatality rate is six times that in any other industry: children account for 20% of all deaths on US farms.

Agriculture is a hazardous occupation, but no statistics are maintained on US child laborers and serious accidents. Children who work on farms spend on average 30 hours a week, even during times of the year when school is in session. Of the children who work on US farms, 50% of them will not graduate from high school. Many are doomed to poverty. The United States Department of Labor estimates that children earn about $1,000 per year. The agriculture industry is subject to more lenient labor laws than any other occupation in the United States, and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has different standards for children working in agriculture than in any other industry.

If passed, this law would protect all children working in US agriculture, changing hundreds of thousands of lives. Farmworkers provide essential services to the nation, often at great risk to themselves, making sacrifices for others, to keep people well-fed. It is time to stop treating them as expendable.

This is also a personal matter for Mighty Earth. Our colleague Kristin Urquiza’s four grandparents were migrant farmworkers along with her father, aunts, and uncles who worked in the fields as children before school and in the summer until they graduated from high school. These courageous men and women shaped Kristin’s future with their sacrifices, giving her the opportunities that enriched her life, and have enabled her to become an advocate today for some of the most vulnerable workers in agriculture.

Mighty Earth is signing on to this letter to honor Kristin’s grandparents and all those like them who put the food on our tables.


Tyson: Keep Your Promise

To mark the one year anniversary of Tyson Foods’ announcement of a partnership to implement its sustainable feed sourcing commitment, Mighty Earth Campaign Director Lucia von Reusner released the following statement:

One year ago, Tyson Foods announced it would begin implementing its critically important commitment to improve farming practices on 2 million acres of U.S. corn used in animal feed by 2020. Mighty Earth subsequently decided to halt its campaign urging Tyson to clean up water pollution caused by its vast animal feed supply chain, recognizing that change takes time.

Mighty Earth’s investigations into corporate pledges to end deforestation by 2020 have found an alarming lack of follow-through, with companies continuing to fund suppliers known to be burning forests around the world. However, since its announcement, Tyson has provided no further detail or reporting on its commitment. At a time when the public is rightly skeptical of corporate sustainability initiatives that accountability or visible action, such silence is unacceptable.

As Tyson’s 2020 deadline approaches, it is critical that the company report on its progress toward improving farming practices for U.S corn.

Today, on the anniversary of its much-publicized commitment, we are calling on Tyson to provide a public update with concrete information that includes: the locations and total number of acres engaged, the practices implemented and environmental outcomes achieved for those acres (with a particular focus on reducing nutrient runoff), and specific methods for tracking and verifying environmental improvements. This information is necessary for customers, employees, local communities, and shareholders to know where and how Tyson is delivering on its sustainability promise.

Tyson Foods has a long track record as one of the most polluting companies in America. Overcoming this reputation will require transparency and clear evidence of verifiable changes that are reported to the public.

Join us in urging Tyson to keep its promise, sign the petition!

 


Groundbreaking Resolution Calling on NYC to Divest from Deforestation

Last week, City Council Members Costa Constantinides and Justin Brannan, in partnership with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, introduced a new resolution to City Council that calls on corporate and government entities operating in the City of New York to divest from agricultural industries that benefit form deforestation and the acceleration of global warming. Mighty Earth is encouraged by the introduction of this resolution as its enforcement would have an enormously positive impact on vulnerable ecosystems across the world, especially if adopted on the national scale.

As forests burn from the Arctic to the Amazon and Southeast Asia, the public is demanding action on the global climate crisis and are pressuring governments and companies alike to protect the world’s forests. Companies like Costco, Ahold Delhaize, and Costco must stop funding the destruction of forests by purchasing meat and soy animal feed from Cargill, Bunge, and JBS.


NYC Activists call on Cargill to Stop the Amazon Fires & Embrace Regenerative Agriculture

“Hey Cargill, you can’t hide--we charge you with ecocide.” 

Converging for an early morning action, over 40 New Yorkers chanted, sang, and held handmade signs as Cargill Senior Vice President Ruth Kimmelshue arrived at the Intercontinental Monday morning for an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

The action was sponsored by 30 organizations, including SumOfUs, Friends of the Earth, Amazon Watch, Defend Democracy in Brazil, and a variety of Sunrise Movement chapters.

The Wall Street Journal covered the demonstration in an article this week, noting:

Environmental groups also staged protests, targeting Cargill Inc. The supplier of agricultural commodities missed a deforestation target earlier this year.

“We engage with all those voices to create more sustainable supply chains,” said Ruth Kimmelshue, Cargill’s sustainability chief.

She said Cargill is also feeling pressure from consumer-food companies, which have heightened expectations around environmental practices and the impact of agriculture. “Their brands are on the lines,” she said.

Kimmelshue is right. Consumer-facing brands can continue sourcing from Cargill, or they can maintain a reputation as environmental leaders, but they can’t do both.

Mighty Earth staff and volunteers will next converge on the Consumer Goods Forum in Berlin later this month to mobilize consumer-facing companies and call on them to take swift action to eliminate deforestation-driving commodities from companies like Cargill from their supply chains.

 

Outside of Ruth Kimmelshue’s interview Todd Fernandez, a leader of 350NYC, rallied the crowd with an inspiring speech. “We cannot wait for Congress to act. We have to pressure these corporations” Fernandez said. “Everyone is on notice. There is no escaping the responsibility.”

The action caps off an eventful two-month period, which included a mass die-in at the Cargill Gallery of the Minneapolis Institute of Art, a vigil against deforestation at the Consumer Goods Forum, and an action at Cargill’s Women in Ag conference.


Deforestation Continues Because Companies Aren't Trying

A new assessment released by Climate Focus has found that an area of tree cover the size of the United Kingdom was lost every year between 2014 and 2018. The assessment suggests that achieving the 2020 New York Declaration on Forests targets is now likely impossible. In response to the new report, Mighty Earth CEO Glenn Hurowitz released the following statement:

"Forests are burning in large measure because the big companies that committed to save them are not actually trying to do so. Companies like Ahold Delhaize, McDonald’s, and Mars are, despite all their pledges, continuing to do business on a vast scale with the very companies most responsible for this deforestation, such as Cargill and JBS. Not only are these companies directly financing deforestation, they have repeatedly lobbied governments to stop basic environmental protections. Nobody doing business with Cargill and JBS can credibly say they are concerned about deforestation.

"The tragedy of these findings is that they also demonstrate that success is possible. Companies can achieve dramatic progress when they actually make an effort. These same companies have largely, though imperfectly, enforced their no deforestation polices in the palm oil industry, and the results on the ground show it: deforestation for palm oil has declined from 1 million acres a year to 200,000 acres per year. This is, of course, still 200,000 acres of deforestation too many, but it also shows real progress is possible."

Additional resources:

 


As Massive Dead Zone Blooms in Gulf, Hold Industrial Farming Companies Responsible

Today, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that scientists have determined that this year’s Gulf of Mexico “dead zone” is 6,952 square miles, nearly the size of New Jersey. In response, Mighty Earth Campaign Director Lucia von Reusner released the following statement:

“The collapse of one of our most important watersheds is tragic not only because of its size, impact on marine life, and consequences on Gulf economies – but because it’s entirely predictable and preventable. Uncontrolled runoff from industrial meat production flushed down the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico is known to be the main source of pollution causing the dead zone. The raw sewage from livestock waste and runoff from grain fields washing into waterways across the Midwest has reached crisis levels – contaminating drinking water, causing toxic algae blooms, and deoxygenating important waterways throughout the Mississippi River watershed.

“The very predictability of this crisis is the most damning indictment. America’s meat companies know where their waste is going and what effect it has on water quality, but are content to leave these problems to communities downstream that have to foot the bill. This is shameless corporate abuse of our public waterways. It is time the companies responsible are held to account for cleaning up American waterways.

“As climate-fueled flooding becomes commonplace in America, the industrial meat companies like JBS and Cargill that are responsible for driving polluting farming practices must immediately take action to implement protections for America’s water.”

A recent Mighty Earth analysis showed that nearly 220 million tons of untreated animal waste and other pollutants washed freely off industrial farms into the Mississippi River watershed in 2018, endangering local water quality and ultimately contributing to the toxic algal blooms fueling the annual Gulf dead zone. This is 500 times more raw sewage than New York City produced during the same year. America’s largest meat companies have concentrated their slaughterhouses and processing facilities near waterways throughout the Mississippi River Basin that are increasingly prone to flooding, while failing to develop and implement practices to protect water quality.

Agricultural giant JBS, responsible for 80 million tons of pollution in 2018, was the top polluter identified in the analysis, while Cargill and Tyson were the most vulnerable to flooding. Polluted runoff from fields producing the vast quantities of animal feed used by these companies is another major source of water contamination causing the dead zone.

This announcement comes shortly after the publication of Mighty Earth’s “Cargill: Worst Company in the World” report, which documents decades of bad acts by Cargill and calls on the company to take action to address the negative impacts of its massive supply chain. Cargill is the second-largest feed beef processor in North America and the largest supplier of ground beef in the world.

Additional Resources:


Cargill Named "Worst Company in the World"

Cargill Named "Worst Company in the World"

New report documents US-based agribusiness giant’s “ineptitude and incoherence at a grand scale.”

This press release is available in French, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese and German.

July 11, 2019

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. – Environmental campaign organization Mighty Earth announced today that it had named Minnesota-based Cargill as the “Worst Company in the World” due to its unscrupulous business practices, environmental destruction, and repeated insistence on standing in the way of global progress on sustainability. Mighty Earth’s new report, “Cargill: The Worst Company in the World,” documents decades of bad acts by the company and highlights the need for urgent action. The report is available in Spanish, Dutch, French, Portuguese and German.

“In my 40-year long career in Congress, I took on a range of companies that engaged in abusive practices,” former congressman and Mighty Earth Chairman Henry Waxman writes in the report. “I have seen firsthand the harmful impact of businesses that do not bring their ethics with them to work. But Cargill stands out.”

“As one of the largest companies in the world, Cargill has a responsibility to address its outsized impact,” Mighty Earth CEO Glenn Hurowitz said. “Mighty Earth runs campaigns around the globe to advocate for sustainable business practices, and Cargill kept showing up when our investigations identified bad actors. Whether we were working on palm oil in Southeast Asia, cocoa farming in West Africa, or soy cultivation in South America, Cargill was always there, ready to thwart progress and impede joint conservation efforts. Given their ubiquity and obstinance, we decided it was time to take a closer look at their checkered past.”

For months, Mighty Earth has engaged in discussions with Cargill, including at the CEO level, to address the report’s findings and seek long-term solutions. Mighty Earth has served as a key convener for other sectors – including rubber, chocolate, and palm oil – as those companies sought to improve their environmental standards and impacts. However, Cargill has refused, time and time again, to substantively address the problems Mighty Earth identified. Instead, Cargill continues to prioritize the deforesters in its supply chains over the climate or their customers’ sustainability demands.

“In press releases and public statements, the agribusiness giant Cargill presents itself as frustrated with deforestation, as though it were some externality they have no control over, like bad weather,” Hurowitz said. “But deforestation isn’t something that’s happening to Cargill, it’s something that Cargill is doing.”

Mighty Earth’s new report identifies Ahold Delhaize – an international supermarket giant that owns Stop & Shop, Giant, Food Lion, Hannaford, and many other brands – as a key customer of Cargill that could take immediate action. Ahold Delhaize, despite its own corporate sustainability pledges, recently broke ground on a new meat packaging facility in Rhode Island as a joint venture with Cargill.

“It’s important for Ahold Delhaize and other Cargill customers to set new sourcing standards that eliminate deforestation from their supply chains. They have the power to force Cargill’s hand, but continued inaction makes them complicit in Cargill’s malfeasance,” said Mighty Earth Senior Director for Forests Mat Jacobson. “Cargill has only gotten away with its bad behavior for so long because it is not a consumer-facing brand. But if folks knew the food they get at McDonald’s, Stop & Shop, or Target was destroying the rainforests or had been produced with child slavery, they’d be shocked.”

The release of Mighty Earth’s groundbreaking report kicks-off a multimillion-dollar, multi-year campaign targeting Cargill and its customers that will urge the agribusiness giant to eliminate deforestation and human rights abuses from its supply chain. To launch the campaign, local Mighty Earth activists and allies including Minnesota Clean Water Action honored Cargill for its dubious distinction with a rally outside Cargill headquarters in Minnesota at which it awarded the company a “thumbs down” placard.

About the Report

Major findings:

  • Cargill is poised to further wreak havoc on fragile ecosystems in Brazil, taking advantage of President Bolsonaro’s rollback of vital environmental protections. In 2014, Cargill pledged to end deforestation for all commodities in its supply chain by 2020. With just one year left, Cargill has continued to incentivize deforestation, remained one of the worst actors on the world stage, and now stands poised to embrace the dawning of a Bolsonaro-era free-for-all in Brazil’s forests.
  • In November 2017, Cargill was fined $10 million by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission for years of deliberately misreporting its trade values – by up to 90 percent – in order to defraud both the government and its trading partners. In October 2018, David Dines, the Cargill executive responsible for these violations, was promoted to Chief Financial Officer.
  • Indigenous peoples who depend on forests have had their land encroached upon by Cargill-linked soy plantations in Brazil. They have been forced off of their traditional lands and have experienced sharp increases in cancer, birth defects, miscarriages, and other illnesses linked to pesticides and herbicides used to grow soy – often sprayed by planes directly overhead.
  • Cargill is one of the top ten polluters in the US food industry for more than a dozen pollutants, including formaldehyde, lead, asbestos, hydrogen cyanide, and mercury.

Photo and video assets relating to the report and Cargill’s operations across different commodities are available for media.

Contact: Alex Armstrong, [email protected]


Meat Company Pollution to Blame for New, Near-Record “Dead Zone” Forecast

On the heels of the official NOAA forecast that predicts a near-record size “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mexico this summer, environmental campaign organization Mighty Earth is laying the blame at the feet of America’s biggest meat companies.

“In 2018, JBS was responsible for generating 80 million tons of raw sewage – and that’s just what we know about. Dumping that much manure and slaughterhouse waste into our waters is clearly a major threat to our health and downstream prosperity, but the new forecast shows just how disastrous and out of hand the industry’s pollution has become,” said Mighty Earth Campaign Director Lucia von Reusner. “The environmental catastrophe is rivalled only by the economic damage this will do to the Gulf economies later this year.”

A recent Mighty Earth analysis showed that America’s largest meat companies have built slaughterhouses and processing facilities in flood-prone areas throughout the Mississippi River Basin while failing to develop and implement practices to protect water quality. As a result, 145 million tons of untreated animal waste and other pollutants washed freely off industrial farms into the Mississippi River watershed in 2018, endangering local water quality and ultimately contributing to the toxic algal blooms fueling the annual Gulf dead zone.

Agricultural giant JBS, responsible for 80 million tons of pollution in 2018, was the top polluter identified in the analysis, while Cargill and Tyson were the most vulnerable to flooding. Polluted runoff from fields producing the vast quantities of animal feed used by these companies is another major source of water contamination causing the dead zone.

“Given the climate-fueled extreme flooding washing more and more pollution downstream, it would not be surprising if this is ultimately the largest-ever dead zone,” von Reusner said.

NOAA’s official forecast predicts a hypoxic zone of 7,829 square miles. However, researchers at Louisiana State University who contributed to NOAA’s model predict – with a 95 percent confidence interval – an area between 7,889 and 9,583 square miles. The largest ever recorded to date was in 2017, with a dead zone of 8,776 square miles.

“JBS and the other meat companies have gotten away with their reckless practices for so long because the chain of cause and effect is as long as the Mississippi River,” said von Reusner. “But the connection between uncontrolled runoff from industrial farms and the dead zone is clear – and the results are disastrous. It’s time for industrial meat companies to be held accountable for the unacceptable levels of pollution flushed downstream year after year: they must immediately move to implement protections for America’s water.”


Analysis: Spring Floods Exacerbate Raw Sewage from Factory Farms Washing into Gulf of Mexico

Analysis: Spring Floods Exacerbate Raw Sewage from Factory Farms Washing into Gulf of Mexico

Following the unprecedented climate-fueled flooding sweeping the Midwest this spring, Mighty Earth wanted to calculate approximately how much raw sewage is washing off America’s largest industrial factory farms into American waterways. Industrial meat production is the largest source of water pollution in the United States, yet this industry and its impacts are often left out of discussions around climate change. With the climate crises worsening and the Trump administration working to further roll back environmental regulations on industry, it is critical that the American public understand the sources and vast amounts of pollution washing into our waterways in order to hold specific companies and policymakers responsible for curbing uncontrolled industrial runoff.

The map below shows the locations of company facilities and the average per facility water pollutant data reported to EPA’s TRI database within the most recent 5-year period from 2012-2017. To view each company separately, click the cog icon in the legend to turn on specific company data layers. When clicking on a facility location, scroll down the pop up box to see the pollution calculations.

View the larger map

To assess how much pollution is being generated annually by the facilities of America’s largest meat companies, Mighty Earth analyzed water pollutant data reported by companies to the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) database and annual slaughter data reported in company or industry reports to evaluate total manure waste generated by each company. We mapped this data onto NOAA’s 2019 spring flooding outlook to identify which facilities were located in flood prone areas, and how much pollution those facilities were discharging onto the surrounding landscape. Full methodology and findings are below. We found that:

  • JBS came in as the top polluter, generating approximately 80 million tons of sewage.
  • In total, the top meat companies discharged nearly 220 million tons of manure and facility waste using practices that directly threaten nearby waterways with contamination, by either discharging pollutants directly into waterways, spreading pollutants onto the surrounding landscape, or storing pollutants in earthen impoundments that are highly prone to flooding and overflowing. This is approximately 500 times more sewage waste than is generated by New York City each year, yet unlike human waste, this waste from the meat industry is left untreated when it washes into waterways.
  • Facilities located in the Mississippi Watershed- which flows into the Gulf of Mexico- discharged an estimated 16 million lbs of sewage directly from facilities and 128 million tons of manure from supplying livestock and poultry production facilities.
  • Cargill had the most facilities concentrated in regions classified as by NOAA as ‘high risk’ for flooding in the spring of 2019, while Tyson had the highest exposure overall to flood risk areas.

The facilities of these corporate factory farms produce more sewage waste than some major U.S. cities, and this waste contains a variety of toxins and pathogens dangerous to human health including manure, nitrates, hydrogen sulfide, lead, E. coli, antibiotic resistant bacteria, growth hormones, and more.  Unlike human waste however, sewage from factory farms is not required to be treated before it is released into the surrounding environment. Common methods of disposing of sewage from factory farms are to spread the waste on surrounding crop fields, store it in massive open earthen pits prone to overflow or leaking, or discharge it directly into nearby waterways. Precipitation events like rain or snow then wash this waste downstream, contaminating drinking water across the Midwest with harmful toxins and creating dead zones fueled by toxic algae blooms in major watersheds like the Gulf of Mexico each summer.

While uncontrolled pollution from the meat industry has been a long-standing threat to our waterways, catastrophic floods exacerbated by climate change and the destruction of natural landscape buffers are increasingly turning America’s agricultural regions into open sewers filled in part by the meat industry’s waste. Last fall, Hurricane Florence devastated North Carolina as manure lagoons filled with hog waste overflowed across the landscape. This spring, unprecedented flooding swept the Midwest- the heart of the meat industry’s supply chain. As a result, NOAA has already issued predictions that the annual dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, caused largely by the meat industry’s run-off pollution washing down the Mississippi River, is going to be larger than the annual average. The bulk of the meat industry’s pollution comes from the vast quantities of feed required to raise livestock and poultry, which was the focus of Mighty Earth’s Mystery Meat II report.

Costco's poultry plant in Fremont, Ohio impacted by flooding

The meat industry is highly consolidated, with a small handful of companies controlling between 60-90% of poultry, pork, and beef markets. These companies are responsible for the bulk of the industry’s impacts, yet can drive massive improvements at scale by changing farming practices in their supply chains. Recognizing that climate change is worsening while demand for meat is rising, Mighty Earth is leading a global campaign calling on the world’s largest food companies to require more sustainable farming practices that reduce the environmental devastation from industrial meat production.  You can see more about our work here.

Full Methodology


To calculate the amount of pollution generated by the facilities of America’s largest meat companies, we used company reported water pollutant data to the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) database and annual slaughter data reported in company or industry reports to evaluate total manure waste. This calculation does not include the runoff from producing the vast quantities of corn and soy feed used to raise livestock and poultry. The companies were chosen as those representing 2/3 or more of the poultry, pork, and beef markets. Given irregularly reported company data to the EPA’s TRI, the calculations represent the average per facility data reported to EPA’s TRI database within the most recent 5-year period from 2012-2017, while manure calculations rely on most recent 2018 livestock and poultry processing figures from company or industry reports, and NRCS estimated animal waste characteristics. The facilities were overlaid with the 2019 NOAA flood risk map identifying regions with a >50% likelihood of minor, moderate, and severe flooding. Facility locations were identified using a combination of EPA TRI release data using NAICS codes for food and agricultural manufacturing, USDA data, and company websites.


Despite Shareholder Concerns, Pilgrim’s Pride Turns a Blind Eye to Water Pollution … Again

Concerned shareholders submitted a resolution at Pilgrim’s Pride’s annual meeting today urging the Board of Directors to adopt and implement a water stewardship policy designed to reduce risks of contamination at all facilities in Pilgrim Pride’s supply chain. Pilgrim’s Pride has refused to take any action, declining to meet with the concerned shareholders and declining to respond to letters voicing concerns about water pollution from Mighty Earth.

Pilgrim’s Pride is one of the largest poultry producers in the United States. A subsidiary of JBS, the largest meat company in the world, Pilgrim’s Pride claims to produce 1 out of every 5 chickens in the United States. Their massive production comes with serious pollution: In 2018 alone, JBS and Pilgrim’s Pride produced over 159 billion pounds of manure - 1.6 billion pounds of which came from Pilgrim’s Pride’s poultry division, and the EPA’s toxic release inventory shows Pilgrim’s Pride discharged 16973640 lbs of water polluting toxins from its facilities 2012-2017.

“The meat industry is responsible for widespread and worsening water pollution throughout the country. Chemicals and manure wash off fields and slaughterhouse floors, contaminating our rivers and oceans and even the water we drink. This year, unprecedented flooding and storms across the Midwest have only exacerbated the environmental and public health risks of the meat industry’s polluting practices,” said Mighty Earth Campaign Director Lucia von Reusner. “Shareholders are right to pressure Pilgrim’s Pride to clean up the water pollution throughout their poultry supply chain.”

“Shareholders of Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation will again be filing a resolution asking the company to improve disclosure on managing water contamination related risks by reporting on how the company is responding to increasing regulatory, public and competitive pressure to significantly reduce water pollution from the company’s owned facilities; facilities under contract; and suppliers,” said Anne Falkenberg, a member of the Socially Responsible Investment Coalition. “We believe that that the company in doing so will benefit by creating policies needed to govern sustainable and responsible operations and reducing material risks to business, brand and potential growth.”

Pilgrim’s Pride is ranked as a top corporate water polluter in the United States, based on an evaluation of EPA-reported toxic releases into waterways from their slaughterhouses, the vast quantities of manure generated by their poultry, and the pollution that washes off the industrial crop fields in the company’s supply chain.

Over 7 million Americans are exposed to carcinogenic nitrates in drinking water from industrial agriculture. According to the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory, Pilgrim’s Pride released on average over 2.7 million pounds of pollutants, mostly nitrates and ammonia, from slaughterhouses into waterways between 2012 and 2017. Yet the company lacks any policies, contracts or codes that address water quality.

In contrast to Pilgrim’s Pride’s inaction, competitors have begun taking steps to reduce pollution in their supply chains. Just in the past year, Smithfield set a target to purchase 75 percent of its grain from farms managed to reduce water pollution, and Tyson Foods has made a commitment to implement sustainable farming practices on 2 million acres of U.S. corn by the end of 2020.

“Ensuring sustainable farming practices are used in producing food is something that consumers, shareholders, and the public increasingly expect from their favorite brands,” said von Reusner. “As more and more of their competitors outpace them in this area, it’s not surprising that Pilgrim’s Pride is hearing from its shareholders. I expect these calls for action will only get louder.”


Whole Foods CEO John Mackey Stumbles on Sustainability

“It’s an impossible request…if we tried to do it we would ruin our business and go bankrupt”

That’s what Whole Foods CEO James Mackey said when asked how his company can address sustainability standards throughout its supply chain. At a conversation hosted by the Texas Tribune, John Mackey was asked what Whole Foods was doing to address its supply chain’s climate impact.

His answer: “We have literally tens of thousands of suppliers to our company. I always think it’s unfair to ask a business to hold absolutely every one of its suppliers up to some sort of activist standard…I cannot account for the probably 30,000 suppliers we deal with. It’s an impossible request…”

Watch the full exchange:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jZxERAzRhFw&feature=youtu.be

Video by The Texas Tribune . This video has been edited for length. You can view the full interview here.

But companies setting standards for their suppliers is far from unfair or impossible – it’s a common, effective tactic for making change. Consider:

  • Walmart and Tesco have supply-chain-wide greenhouse gas reduction targets that hold their suppliers accountable for reducing greenhouse gas emissions – exactly what Mr. Mackey was asked about.
  • Despite Mr. Mackey’s claims, Whole Foods does in fact set “activist” standards for its suppliers (see, for example, its animal welfare guidelines).
  • The Whole Foods brand is built on customers’ trust that they are buying high quality, healthy, and sustainable food from responsible suppliers.

Whole Foods has, quite simply, fallen behind on this point. While its competitors address their climate impacts down to the individual farm level, Whole Foods does not appear to have made progress on (or updated) its 2012 greenhouse gas commitment, which only applied to its own operations. And it continues to buy meat from some of the most polluting companies in America, including Tyson Foods and the same suppliers that sell to McDonald’s.

Mighty Earth has called on Whole Foods to set clear environmental standards for its meat, requiring its suppliers to reduce water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Over 160,000 customers have signed petitions urging Mr. Mackey to set environmental standards for the meat Whole Foods sells, yet this dismissive comment has been the company’s only response.

You can see background materials on Mighty Earth’s campaign here and here, as well as an op-ed published in the Texas Tribune in June. I am also happy to put you in touch with Lucia von Reusner, Mighty Earth’s US Agriculture Campaign Director, if you have any questions.


Mighty Earth Responds to Cargill's Announcement of Revisions to Forests, Soy, and Human Rights Policies

In response to Cargill’s publication of its latest policies regarding soy, forests, and human rights, Mighty Earth CEO Glenn Hurowitz released the following statement:

"Cargill is moving in the right direction by extending their promise to end deforestation by 2020 to also protect other critical ecosystems like South America’s Cerrado, Gran Chaco, and Llanos. This announcement has the potential to be the starting point that leads to a major breakthrough for more sustainable meat, cocoa, and palm oil.

"Our field investigations have shown that despite multiple commitments to protect forests over the last decade, Cargill often lags behind their competitors in the implementation of those commitments. In 2014, Cargill joined other companies in a CEO-level commitment to end deforestation across its major supply chains by 2020. Since then, we and others have published repeated investigations documenting extensive deforestation in its soy supply chain in Bolivia, Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay.

"Over the last three weeks, I’ve been happy to hold constructive discussions about these issues several times with Cargill CEO David MacLennan; his personal focus gives us hope that Cargill has the potential to turn a corner to address deforestation across its soy, cocoa, and palm oil supply chains. Cargill also needs to dramatically improve its performance to stop destroying native vegetation and allowing fertilizer and manure to pollute America’s waterways.

"To win the trust of customers, communities, and the public, Cargill needs to show right away that it will enforce this policy by ensuring that any supplier that engages in destruction of native ecosystems is not part of their supply chain. It also needs to spread its own decade-long success in working with other companies to eliminate deforestation for soy in the Brazilian Amazon to the other soy-growing ecosystems. This is the world’s most successful private sector environmental initiative, and there’s no reason to confine it to just the Brazilian Amazon while massive deforestation continues in other areas. Cargill must also implement agroforestry practices in their cocoa supply chain and ensure farmers receive decent wages so that they can provide the sustainable chocolate that the world’s consumers demand.

"We are hopeful that soon we will be able to praise Cargill not just for promises, but for action. We will be watching closely."


Shareholders Push Tyson on Water Pollution

Tyson’s track record as one of the nation’s top water polluters is once again coming under fire from shareholders at the company’s annual meeting this year. Concerned about the negative impacts on workers, farmers, and communities, as well as the risks to Tyson’s ability to do business in the face of public scrutiny, shareholders are pushing the company to adopt and implement a water stewardship policy to mitigate the chronic water pollution being caused by its supply chain (full details of the concerns can be found here).

This is the fourth consecutive year Tyson Foods is facing a shareholder proposal concerned about the company’s water pollution, with last year’s proposal receiving support from 63 percent of non-family shareowners. The latest shareholder memo highlights a litany of fines the company has faced for violating clean water regulations, growing public backlash from communities where Tyson is seeking to do business, the public health consequences for workers and community members exposed to water contamination from Tyson’s supply chain, and the risks to Tyson’s brand and customer trust resulting from controversies concerning water pollution.

Last year, Tyson announced a commitment to improve farming practices on two million acres of grains in the U.S. by 2020 and recently released a partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund to begin piloting this commitment on 500,000 acres. While an ambitious and important goal, Tyson to date still has not released specific details on how this on-paper commitment will translate into real improvements on the ground. Meanwhile, the company appears to be operating business as usual while water pollution continues to leach from its supply chain. In a recent report from the Environmental Integrity Project, Tyson was found to have the most processing plants operating in chronic violations of clean water regulations, with 26 plants found in violation of their monthly water pollution limits between January 2016 and June 2018.

Investor and public concern about the uncontrolled environmental devastation caused by meat is on the rise. Last week, over 80 global investors representing more than $6.5 trillion sent letters to six fast food companies that buy large quantities of meat, asking them to set clear environmental requirements for their meat suppliers to reduce water and greenhouse gas pollution. Walmart, which is Tyson’s single largest customer, has set ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals for its supply chain through Project Gigaton, which call for supplier compliance.

In addition to water pollution, the farming practices throughout the Tyson supply chain are a major contributor to climate emissions. Given that the limited window that climate scientists have assessed to curb emissions and avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, addressing the impacts of meat production are a vital part of our response to this crisis. Producing meat has a larger environmental impact than nearly any other human activity, with the top meat and dairy producers – including Tyson – ranked alongside the largest oil companies as top corporate contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.


Global Investors Push Fast Food Giants to Cut Meat’s Environmental Impact

A coalition of more than 80 global investors representing more than $6.5 trillion has sent letters to six of the world’s largest fast food companies urging action to reduce environmental devastation caused by their meat. In dispatches sent to McDonald’s, Yum! Brands, Restaurant Brands International, Chipotle, Wendy’s, and Domino’s Pizza, the investors cite concerns about the financial and reputational risks to companies that fail to reduce the greenhouse gas, water, and land impacts of their meat, and highlight steps the companies need to take to reduce these risks.

“It is clear that the public is waking up to the environmental devastation caused by the meat industry,” said Lucia von Reusner, Campaign Director for Mighty Earth. “The private sector has an obligation to act responsibly, and investors understand that burning the planet to produce meat is not a good long-term business strategy.”

Meat production has a larger environmental impact than nearly any other human activity, and the top meat and dairy companies are responsible for widespread water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions nearly equal to the largest oil companies. Mighty Earth has released several reports documenting the environmental devastation caused by the largest meat companies, like Tyson and Cargill, and highlighted opportunities to reduce these impacts through more sustainable farming practices for sourcing feed and managing manure.

The investor letters call on the fast food companies – who represent more than 120,000 restaurants around the world – to set requirements for their suppliers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, address freshwater impacts, and report regularly on progress toward these goals.

Mighty Earth is leading a campaign to build public pressure on major meat companies like Tyson and Cargill to adopt policies to stop deforestation and reduce water pollution caused by their meat supply chains. Food companies that buy large quantities of meat have significant influence over the supply chain, yet a recent analysis from Mighty Earth found most food companies – including supposedly ‘green’ sellers like Whole Foods – have no policies to ensure their meat suppliers are using environmentally responsible practices.

“Customers are increasingly looking for more sustainable food options and expect their favorite brands to be using responsible suppliers, not directing their dollars to top environmental polluters like Tyson and Cargill,” von Reusner said. “Food companies have set requirements to address issues like antibiotic overuse and animal welfare in the meat industry, and now it’s time to require environmental protections as well.”


Mighty Earth responds to Tyson Announcement of Partnership to Implement Sustainable Feed Sourcing Commitment

Nine months after announcing its commitment to improve sustainability practices for 2 million acres of its animal feed, Tyson has released details on how it will begin implementing this goal. Tyson Foods has partnered with the Environmental Defense Fund to pilot sustainable farming practices on 500,000 acres of U.S. corn, and publicly communicate its progress. While still lacking substantial details, this announcement is an important step towards providing transparency and insight into Tyson’s plans for making its supply chain more sustainable.

“Industrial meat production is one of the most polluting activities on the planet- causing significant water pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and destruction of native ecosystems like grasslands and forests” noted Mighty Earth CEO Glenn Hurowitz. “As one of the world’s largest meat producers, Tyson has significant influence over farming practices used to raise meat and has a responsibility to put agriculture on a more sustainable path."

Tyson has faced growing public scrutiny and concern about the environmental devastation being caused by its supply chain, which is driving widespread water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions throughout the United States. The bulk of Tyson’s environmental impact comes from producing the vast quantities of grain used in animal feed, as well as the disposal of manure.

"In order to drive real improvements, Tyson must require all suppliers to use farming practices like cover cropping, fertilizer efficiency, conservation tillage, and native ecosystem protections for growing animal feed, and adopt a responsible manure management policy that prevents further contamination of our nation’s waters," said Mighty Earth Campaign Director Lucia von Reusner.

Mighty Earth has been leading a nation-wide campaign to raise public awareness and mobilize pressure on Tyson to improve farming practices for feed and manure that would reduce water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have joined the campaign, as have shareholders concerned about the growing risks to Tyson from ongoing water pollution.

See more about Mighty Earth’s #CleanItUpTyson campaign here.


Thousands of Customers & Community Leaders Urge Whole Foods to Set Environmental Standards for Meat

Mighty Earth, a global environmental non-profit, delivered over 160,000 petitions to Whole Foods managers today in Austin TX; Chicago, IL; Fayetteville, AR; and Minneapolis, MN. These petitions have been signed by over 7,200 local residents and 160,000 global customers (via two online petitions), urging Whole Foods to set clear environmental standards for the meat sold in stores and to stop selling from highly polluting companies like Tyson and Cargill.

This petition delivery comes on the heels of Thanksgiving-themed rallies held in front of Whole Foods stores across the country last month, representing a coalition of 180 organizations committed to promoting sustainable food in their communities.

“It is clear that customers expect high sustainability standards when they shop at Whole Foods, and are shocked to find out dollars are being directed to some of the most polluting companies in the world when they buy meat,” said Mighty Earth Organizer in Austin, TX Lucas Judson. “Whole Foods needs to live up to their sustainable branding and set clear environmental standards for their meat.”

A report released by Mighty Earth found that Whole Foods has no environmental standards for the meat it buys, and that the company is sourcing from companies ranked by the EPA as among the top water polluters in the country- including Tyson Foods and Cargill, the same suppliers used by McDonald’s. The bulk of this pollution comes from toxins washing off fields that produce feed for Whole Foods meat, as well as irresponsibly managed manure that is often dumped directly into waterways across the United States. This pollution could be dramatically reduced through more sustainable farming practices for producing feed and managing manure, yet the industry has so far resisted adopting these reforms.

“As one of America’s largest grocery stores that buys large quantities of meat, Whole Foods has significant leverage to require meat suppliers to use environmentally responsible farming practices that keep our waters clean and communities healthy- and the public expects them to use it” noted Anya Fetcher, a resident and campaign volunteer for Mighty Earth in Austin, TX.

The McWholeFoods campaign is working to educate and mobilize customers across the country to demand Whole Foods strengthen its sustainability standards for meat suppliers to reduce water and climate pollution. Despite growing calls from customers, Whole Foods has so far refused to respond to the demands of hundreds of thousands of customers that they set environmental standards for meat. Campaigners will be meeting with store managers in Chicago, IL; Fayetteville, AR; Austin, TX; and Minneapolis, MN to deliver petitions and request a response from the company executive headquarters.