Cargill pledged Wednesday to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in its North American beef supply chain by 30 percent in the next decade.
The Minnesota-based agribusiness, one of the world’s largest beef producers with facilities in Cedar Rapids, said it will meet this reduction on a per-pound-of-product basis by 2030 through better grazing practices, improved animal feed and reducing food waste throughout the entire chain.
A reduction in per-pound emissions is not the same as reducing overall emissions, but rather the amount emitted to produce each burger or steak, for example.
Through this initiative, which it dubbed “BeefUp Sustainability,” the company also will look to other executives and entrepreneurs in other industries for ideas that fall outside Cargill’s old way of solving problems, said Jon Nash, the company’s head of North American protein.
“We are trying to make a concerted effort to change the way we think and really challenge some of the things we have historically done,” Nash said. “We are pushing hard to disrupt ourselves.”
Livestock production accounts for 14.5 percent of man-made greenhouse gas emissions globally, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Within that, cattle raised for beef and milk contributes the majority of livestock-related emissions.
Beef production accounts for a smaller percentage of U.S. emissions as Americans contribute more proportionally through electrical and automotive use than many other countries.
As one of the world’s largest players in the production, transportation and sale of agricultural goods, Cargill is increasingly thrust to the fore of environmental issues related to food.
Cargill is the third-largest U.S. beef processor, selling $12.3 billion worth of the red meat in 2017, according to Cattle Buyers Weekly.
The company will base the greenhouse gas reduction percentage on its 2017 North American beef baseline of approximately 60 million metric tons.
“Today, beef production accounts for 2 percent of total GHG emissions in the U.S.,” Nash said. “Through our BeefUp Sustainability program, Cargill is pledging to do our part to improve this industry baseline by reducing the emissions in our supply chain by 30 percent per pound of product.”
Methane, a chemical compound created in the gut of cattle and released through belching, is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in beef production, according to the United Nations.
The organization suggests methane production could be reduced by feeding cattle more tailored mixes that could improve digestion.
Cargill, which also happens to be a large producer of animal feed, said this is one of the key areas it will focus on to reach its goal.
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Cargill also said it will work with ranchers, who have the option to participate, to alter grazing practices in a way that improves the land’s capacity to hold in more carbon. It also will try and improve the sustainability of row crops, key ingredients in animal feed, by using more cover crops between plantings.
Cargill also said it will work with its customers — such as fast-food restaurants and grocery retailers — to reduce food waste. Nash said that could be through better packaging to prevent spoilage or reducing portion sizes so people throw away less beef.