Foodservice Footprint Net2 The Friday Digest: Has Yum’s appetite for net-zero waned? Foodservice News and Information  news-story-top news-email-top

The Friday Digest: Has Yum’s appetite for net-zero waned?

Let’s start with Yum! – a company for which there is good news and bad in this week’s Digest. Which do you want first? Ok, so the good news is that the owner of KFC and Pizza Hut appears to be making decent progress on its climate commitments in the US. The Ceres’ Food Emissions 50 Company Benchmark (US) showed Yum! Brands as the first company in the annual assessment to begin putting numbers to its whole strategy to reduce emissions. This week, Ceres programme director, food and forests Meryl Richards, has penned a piece for us. “Putting numbers to a [climate transition] plan is an entrée into ensuring that the company is covering its bases; that it knows where it needs to go and has an idea of how it will get there,” she writes.

This followed praise from CDP and S&P Dow Jones Sustainability Index in February. “I’m proud that Yum! continues to be recognised by CDP and others for the continuous improvements in our sustainability agenda,” said the company’s CSO and VP of global government affairs Jon Hixson.

Not everyone is happy with Yum’s approach though: it has become one of a number of big corporate names to be downgraded by the Science-based targets initiative (SBTi). Yum! is now showing on the initiative’s dashboard as ‘commitment removed’. Others to have suffered the same fate of late include Accor, Bidfood, Compass, Diageo, JBS, Nomad Foods, Plenish Drinks, Premier Foods, Tata Global Beverages and even Unilever (company responses in due course). 

This unwanted tag doesn’t mean companies have pulled the plug on their net-zero ambitions entirely. Many are having issues with their scope 3 emissions assessments, thus validation of their plans are being held up. The conclusion of a net-zero sign-up campaign and a deadline to set science-based targets has also just expired (SBTI’s business ambition for 1.5°C campaign). Some companies undoubtedly enjoyed the positive PR while it lasted and are now content to greenhush. Some are simply struggling with all this. And let’s not forget too, that thousands of companies have met the deadlines, and there are many thousands more that haven’t even made commitments.

Talk of KFC reminds us about the Soil Association’s new research this week showing that rivers in at least seven counties across Britain are at risk of becoming “dead zones” depleted of wildlife if UK governments don’t ban new factory chicken farms. The sector has been expanding at a rate of one million birds per month since 2014, the charity said, and is “a leading cause of ‘dead zones’ in the River Wye” – where the muck from 20 million chickens has contributed to phosphate pollution that causes algal blooms, suffocating plants and starving wildlife that depend on it.  The new ‘Stop killing our rivers’ report looked at the escalating number of permits for factory chicken farms in England and Wales (farms 40,000 chickens or 2,000 pigs require environment permits to operate; intensive and beef farms are exempt though the government has promised to look at this).  

The British public is also “blind” to the scale and growth of the industrial chicken meat sector, which has been expanding at a rate, said head of food policy Rob Percival. “Few people realise that industrial chicken production might be the most ethically bankrupt and environmentally destructive business in the UK.”

The regulation of farming is current under the microscope, as farmers protest about green rules for new subsidy regimes while environmental groups point out the dire state of nature. Fingers have been pointing at farmers but food companies – the poultry processors and their customers in retail and foodservice – should prepare for the you-know-what to hit the fan. The profits some of these companies make are “sucked out of the country while the shit is left in our rivers”, said Will White from Sustain, the alliance for better food and farming, this week. “Farmers then kind of get the blame for it and in a way they’re just victims to the system.”

On that note, we should point you towards a Daily Telegraph interview with Patrick Holden, previously head of the Soil Association and founding director of the Sustainable Food Trust, which is worth read. “Farmers are pawns in the game,” said Holden, who still continues to run an organic dairy farm. “They are victims of a system that we are all responsible for. The system of food production is parasitic on farmers,” he said. “If you are trying to have a price war with your competitors, the only place they can extract any more costs from the system has been farmers.” 

(Last week Holden spoke at the Footprint Forum on regenerative agriculture, in association with NestléProfessional, on which there will be more on Monday). 

Our other stories this week include the new review of food procurement in the public sector and the protein potential in carbon negative mushrooms.