The world’s protein companies still failing to address their environmental impact


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(Mike Myers/flickr)

Kasey Dresser| September 9, 2019

The Coller FAIRR Protein Producer Index, in its second active year, just released their report analyzing the environmental, social, and governance risks of meat, dairy, and farmed fish producers. One large take away from this year’s study was the lack of attention given to environmental and animal welfare by some of the world’s largest protein producers.

The FAIRR Index looked at 60 different companies and found evidence of lacking sustainability efforts for greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, food waste, conditions for workers, antibiotic use, and animal welfare. Only 30% of the analyzed companies were able to give the researchers specific environmental strategy plans which focused only on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. One-quarter of the companies refused to even disclose their use of antibiotics on their animals.

As more research regarding climate change emerges, this isn’t just a problem for consumers. The conversation is shifting toward some of the financial consequences of severe weather for these large companies.

“What we’re seeing is that companies in the sector are contributing to many of the risks we discuss in the report, but they’re also deeply vulnerable…to the impacts of climate change,” says FAIRR’s Head of Research, Aarti Ramachandran. In an interview with Forbes, Ramachandran gave an example of an Australian Agricultural Company that lost over $100 million in damages due to extreme flooding.

Ramachandran does leave the report on a positive note acknowledging the increased investments in plant-based proteins by meat and dairy companies. He stated, “we think that, overall, there should be a rebalancing of protein so that animal protein consumption doesn’t continue to grow at the same trajectory, and so that there is a sustainable balance between plant-based and animal-based food.”

The Amazon is on fire due to the world’s high demand for beef


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By Julia Shanahan | August 30th, 2019

The ongoing fire in the Amazon rainforest can be attributed to the world’s high demand for beef.

Brazil is one of the world’s leading exporters of beef and cattle, and with an increasing demand for meat, farmers are pushed to set fire to the rainforest in order to clear land. That land is also used to grow soy to feed chickens and pigs. While this practice is illegal, it is rarely enforced, according to a report from the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

In the report, it says beef exports make up 2.33 percent of Brazil’s economy, and the country exports 20 percent of the beef it produces, using the remaining 80 percent to feed the country of 200 million people. The demand for beef in Brazil increases by ten percent every year, along with the need for more farmland. There are 232 million heads of cattle in Brazil — one per each Brazilian resident.

While the need for agriculture expansion caused the fire, beef production comes with its own environmental risks as well. In the CU report, it says one pound of beef requires about 298 square feet of land and 800 liters of water, and an average cow produces about 400 pounds of meat. So, one cow requires 84,000 jugs of water and about two football fields worth of farmland. Additionally, one-third of all freshwater on earth is used for livestock.

The report says that an immediate solution to threat in the Amazon is to reduce the demand for meat, naming China and the EU as some of Brazil’s top customers. The report encouraged those countries to import some of their beef from other countries to lessen the impact on Brazil. Local beef consumption in Brazil needs to be curbed as well.

The Amazon is on fire, again


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By Julia Shanahan | August 23rd, 2019

The Amazon rainforest is on fire. There have been over 74,000 fires in the Brazilian Amazon since January, according to a report from the Washington Post, making for an 85 percent increase in fires since last year.

Researchers at Brazil’s space center, INPE, told Reuters that there is nothing abnormal about climate or the amount of rainfall this year in the Amazon. A majority of the fires were started by farmers in the region preparing farmland for planting season, as natural fires in the Amazon are rare. There were hundreds of recorded fires set by farmers on Aug. 10 in an attempt to clear land and further development, much of which is illegal according to the Washington Post. Farmers often use the land for cattle and soybeans.

The Amazon, sometimes referred to as the Earth’s “lungs,” has an extremely role in releasing oxygen and storing carbon dioxide. The Amazon lost 1,330 square miles of forest cover during the first half of 2019, according to The New York Times. The report says that while climate change did not start these fires, a changing climate can make human-caused fires worse. Fires burn more quickly in dry conditions.

According to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, the fires have caused a spike in carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide emissions — a serious threat to public health and to global warming.

FDA did not find contamination in Yuma romaine lettuce, PMA calls for investigation into environmental causes


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By Julia Shanahan | August 16th, 2019

The Food and Drug Administration announced this week that it did not find any contamination in romaine lettuce from the Yuma, Arizona, area. Five sometimes deadly outbreaks have been tied to Yuma since 2012, the FDA said this week.

The FDA tested 118 lettuce samples for shiga toxin-producing E.coli and salmonella. One test came back positive for STEC, but the agency determined it was not pathogenic. According to a report from Politico, the Produce Marketing Association said it’s not taking the results as a sign that everything is fine.

Bob Whitaker, Chief Science and Technology Officer at PMA, said, according to Politico, that due to the limited scope of the sampling, the FDA should not be encouraged to slow down investigations into food-borne pathogenic outbreaks. He added that the industry needs to dig into the role of the changing environment on food and contamination, according to the report.

The World Health Organization reported in 2018 that climate change is likely to have a big impact on food contamination, putting public health at risk. With increasing rainfall, temperatures, and extreme weather, bacteria, parasites, and harmful algae will persist, along with their patterns of corresponding food-borne diseases. Chemical residues of pesticides will be affected by the changes in pest pressure, and the risk of food contamination from organic pollutants and metals in crop soil will be affected as well.

The WHO study also said the risk for food contamination will not be even across the board. While some countries will see an increase in food production, other countries, particularly those that are lesser developed, will see negative impacts from climate change on food security. Climate sensitive illnesses will be one of the largest contributors to global food-related diseases and mortality, WHO reported.

It is currently unknown if climate change had any significant impact on contamination tied to the Yuma region.

Farmers could be key allies in climate crisis


By Julia Shanahan | August 9th, 2019

According to a report from CNN, farmers could potentially practice farming in a way that would remove carbon from the air and put in into the ground.

From soybeans to corn to pine trees, plants already move carbon out of the air. The report suggests that with enough financial motivation and innovation, farmers could continue growing food while also practicing carbon management. Substances like biochar, charcoal and other organic material that is almost pure carbon, can be sprinkled over soil to keep carbon in the ground for thousands of years, and it doesn’t go back into the atmosphere.

The 2018 IPCC Lands Report says that nearly a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions come out of the agriculture sector, pointing to diesel fuel and synthetic fertilizer.  Gene Tackle, a co-author of the National Climate Assessment, said in the CNN report that farmers could be key allies in helping to reduce, and even eliminate, global greenhouse gas emissions. 

The National Climate Assessment projects that the amount of days that exceed 90 degrees in  Des Moines could increase from 17 days to 70 by mid-century. Additionally, the latest IPCC report finds that growing food around the world will only become more difficult as the weather becomes more unpredictable.

Farmers in Iowa were burdened this past year with extremely heavy rainfall and flooding, as well as an ongoing trade dispute between the U.S. and China that has made it hard for some farmers to sell goods. There are currently no mandatory conservation practices that farmers must practice in Iowa – extra conservation practices are done on a voluntary basis across the state. 

Iowa’s electric-car expansion


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By Julia Shanahan | August 1st, 2019

MidAmerican Energy will build 15 new charging stations across Iowa to encourage Iowans to by electric cars, according to a report from the Des Moines Register.

The company will invest $3.75 million to build the stations along U.S. Highway 20 from Sioux City to Waterloo. The Des Moines-based company said their studies show that people like the environmentally-friendly vehicles, but worry about costs and availability of chargers. The new charging stations would charge vehicles in 20 to 45 minutes.

The amount of battery-electric vehicle registrations more than doubled between 2008 and 2016, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation. From April of 2017 to September of 2018, battery-electric vehicles increased from 400 to nearly 800 vehicles. The combined total of battery-electric and hybrid-electric vehicles in 2018 was 3,000 cars.

According to a 2019 report from the European Environment Agency, contrary to some skeptics, electric cars are better in terms of air quality and reducing the effects of climate change. The report also says that as renewable fuel becomes more prevalent in everyday use, the benefits of electric cars will increase.  

However, no car can be 100 percent clean, especially if the electric energy is not coming from a renewable source. The European Union, U.S., and China, are the biggest players in electric vehicles globally.

Study shows states in the U.S. can expect more hot days


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By Julia Shanahan | July 18th, 2019

The number of Iowa’s heat index is above 90 degrees is expected to triple, bringing the average up to 64 days per year by mid-century and 92 days by the century’s end, according to a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Iowa’s heat index includes the temperature and humidity combined. This potentially lethal heat is caused by climate change, according to the study. These heat increased will affect other states across the country as well.

The study says that if there is no action to reduce carbon emissions, then by the end of the century Florida and Texas could experience the equivalent of about five months per year where the average temperature “feels like” its above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, with most days surpassing 105 degrees. The study said that some southern states could experience temperatures that would exceed the upper-limit of the National Weather Service heat index scale, causing potential, and unprecedented, health risks.

By mid-century, the study found that 401 U.S. cities, places with more than 50,000 residents, would experience an average of about a month or more a year where temperatures surpass 90 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to the usual 239 cities. More than 6 million people would experience “off-the-charts” heat days for about a week or more on average. Overall, the study showed that the Southeast and Southern Great Plains will experience the worst of these effects.


Iowa is experiencing a heat index value of 110 degrees Fahrenheit this week. According to the UCS, heat related injuries can happen at temperatures above 90 degrees, making small children and elderly the most susceptible.