Investors urge meat companies to do more to tackle "significant water pollution risks" associated with feeding, slaughtering and processing livestock

Investors urge meat companies to do more to tackle "significant water pollution risks" associated with feeding, slaughtering and processing livestock

Institutional investors in the US are calling on some of the nation's biggest producers of turkey and other meats to do more to tackle the "significant water pollution risks" associated with feeding, slaughtering and processing livestock.

Forty-five investors, collectively managing more than US$1trn in assets, have sent joint letters to four of the largest producers in the meat industry – Cargill, JBS, Perdue Farms and Smithfield Foods – to highlight the issue just days ahead of the US Thanksgiving holiday.

The non-profit sustainability organisation Ceres said investors asked the companies to assess the pollution impacts of their direct operations, as well as their supply chains, "and develop a comprehensive water stewardship policy with related goals" to "address non-compliance and minimising permitted releases to waterways, safe storage and management of animal waste and minimising fertiliser run-off from animal feed production".

Ceres said the letters came a month after Hurricane Matthew "inundated poultry and hog farms in North Carolina, flooding manure lagoons and killing more than two million chickens, turkeys and hogs". The signatories are members of Ceres and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility.

The letters follow several shareholder proposals filed with other meat sector players,including Tyson Foods, Hormel Foods, Pilgrim's Pride and Sanderson Farms, that call for improved water management. 

"As investors analysing water risks in our portfolios, we believe that robust management of water quality challenges is a critical aspect of risk management in the meat industry, and one of increasing importance in the context of climate change and growing weather extremes," the investors wrote.

Kristel Verhoef, active ownership specialist at ACTIAM, which has EUR56bn (US$59.5bn) in assets under management, said: "Broad mismanagement of local water resources can lead to devastating regulatory, reputational, and litigation risks, weakening a company's ability to operate profitably."

Ceres said companies that have begun responding to its concerns include meat processor Hormel Foods, "which along with several others has joined the Ceres-World Wildlife Fund AgWater Challenge, an initiative to advance water stewardship in the food sector".