Access to finance biggest driver for Tyson Foods’ carbon target

Eric Barker, 08/08/2022

Ian McConnel

THE sustainability director of one of the world’s largest meat processing companies says it is likely producers will need to know their carbon number by 2030 – calling for National Vendor Declarations to include the information.

Tyson Foods’ Ian McConnel, who is the president of Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, told a Droughtmaster conference in Brisbane last week “ethical investors” were driving the sustainability goals for the company. Tyson is aiming for a 30 percent reduction in emissions by 2030.

“Right now, access to finance is by far our biggest driver for sustainability,” Mr McConnel said.

“We have ethical investors and shareholders telling us ‘you need to be good so I feel good giving you my money’. We also have companies buying our shares to get votes at our board table to make sure we set and meet targets.

“But it is good because it means we will be in a position to meet consumer trends.”

Mr McConnel said communicating improvements in environmental sustainability to consumers was one the biggest challenges for the company.

“We have a traceability system in Australia, but that traceability system does not enable me to tell a consumer anything about what you do,” he said.

“I think it should be enabled to do that and if there is anything we should be asking MLA and ISC to look into it is putting that information on NVDs.”

Opportunity for Australia

Tyson Foods is one of the world’s largest meat processing companies and operates a plant in Queensland’s Brisbane Valley. Mr McConnel said the company was likely to look favourably Australian beef if the country met its climate targets.

“We have committed to being carbon neutral by 2050 and as members of the Australian beef industry, you’re going to be neutral by 2030,” he said referring to the red meat industry’s carbon neutral by 2030 target.

“So, as we head to 2030 and we have to reduce our footprint there is a good chance Tyson is going to come knocking in Australia – and a lot of other companies will be the same if the numbers coming from farms are numbers we can use and they comply with international standards.”

Mr McConnel said the company was keen to see verification of carbon claims happen at an industry-wide scale.

“Our strategy isn’t to set up ‘Tyson-branded’ verification systems, because that means producers who invest in it are tied to us,” he said.

“It might sound nice to have, but it actually becomes a limitation. What we need is industry-scale systems that help bring through those verified claims – ideally on an NVD.”

Can beef be part of a sustainable meal?

Mr McConnel said carbon claims were becoming more important, with consumers not as keen on claims like “sustainable”.

“We have just done a bit piece of consumer research in the US, they know what the challenges are and they want specifics,” he said. “This is why organic is still a strong claim, because it is exactly as it says on the label.”

“But our new biggest consumer is the millennial and the claim with the highest willingness to pay more is a carbon claim. They know the biggest issue in the world – decarbonising the economy.”

Wearing his other hat as the president of the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef, Mr McConnel said he was heading to the next COP summit in Egypt later this year – where the idea of “what is a sustainable meal” will be explored.

“We will be demonstrating that beef can be part of that plate and we need to prove that beef can be there,” he said.

“We need to be able to prove it to policy-makers and to consumers because they don’t want broad claims.”






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  1. Dale Stiller, 09/08/2022

    Grassroots cattle producers should not be spooked with lines about what Tyson believes the customer wants and finance not being made available in the future to the non-conformers. Much more believable is that what is proposed is for the benefit of a multinationals profits and ability to control data. It is unnecessary to burden individual producers with measuring their carbon footprint. Especially as pointed-out in an earlier Beef Central article that Australia’s large landmass already is a net carbon sink verifiable by satellite measurement.

  2. Brad Bellinger, 08/08/2022

    I don’t think Tysons and the jet setting save the planet club understand the production system and the booms and busts climate of Australia. During the peak of the last drought when a large portion of our grazing lands looked like Cairo, carbon left our properties now with 2 good seasons there is an endless sea of grass.
    If MLA go near this they will have a fight on their hands.

  3. Shaun Hendy, 08/08/2022

    The request is a large impediment on business, and potential infringement on property rights, with no basis or foundation given that beef production is a flow cycle GHG production system, with no net addition to GHG.
    The demand for meat protein, and forecast growth in demand is such that producers will likely have many options to sell to corporations / processors who are not trying to virtue signal.
    If Tyson Foods want to market a product that is certified to to have a minimal carbon foot print, or more accurately indicate how many kilograms of carbon is sequestered per kilogram of beef produced, that is whole other discussion and one that many producers would engage in if there was a benefit / premium paid.
    However, if Tyson are intimating that they are going to use the beef producer’s gains in improving carbon efficiency / sequestration as an offset against their carbon footprint, there may be a few disagreements on property rights going forward.
    Tyson should mostly be concerned with their own carbon emissions if they consider this a serious issue. Particularly as we know that beef production is a flow cycle GHG production not adding to overall net GHG increases. Do they capture methane from their plants and reuse in form of energy (generating electricity, fueling boilers etc)?
    Given Ian’s approach and comments regarding carbon neutrality he may not be the best ambassador to represent our industry in an forum (including COP) regarding sustainability.
    Australian beef producers have already made significant contributions to environmental management at great cost with the imposition of legislation that does not permit sustainable management of remnant vegetation, only places restrictions and penalties for non compliance and little in the way of encouragement/incentivisation of producers. Ultimately the profitability is the best incentive.
    Australian pastoralists have increased the efficiency of beef production by producing animals for processing at a much younger age than was done 30 to 50 years ago. This has come about via better land management, livestock management and genetics. New management systems are evolving and will likely improve grazing’s contribution to sequestering carbon over and above our flow cycle emissions.

  4. John Wyld, 08/08/2022

    We need a much more realistic method of carbon accounting. The current rules were devised around what was able to be measured and verified, rather than presenting a true picture of the impact of a grass finishing cattle operation. In other words, natural trees, re-growth, grass, herbage, weeds, etc., all absorb CO2 to grow and thrive, and yet are not included into any carbon account. Methane only lasts 10 years in the atmosphere, so unless the cattle herd is growing significantly, there is no increase in the amount emitted into the atmosphere from the cow herd.
    If we are expected to be able to state a precise figure on an NVD, then it should be based on reality. It is likely that a cattle property would be a carbon sink, not the reverse, and we should be recognised as such.

    John Wyld is a former Cattle Council of Australia president. Editor

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