Over the last several years, consumers and investors alike have flocked to Beyond Meat’s plant-based burgers, sausage, and chicken, owing in part to the company’s claim that its goods are beneficial for the environment.
Some, on the other hand, are not so confident.
When it comes to sustainability criteria, one investment monitoring organization has given Beyond Meat a score of zero. Another classifies it as a “serious danger,” placing it on a level with the cattle and chicken processing behemoths JBS and Tyson Foods, respectively.
As Roxana Dobre, a manager of consumer products research at Sustainalytics, which assesses the sustainability of businesses based on their environmental, social, and corporate governance effect, put it: “We don’t believe we have enough evidence to claim Beyond Meat is fundamentally different from JBS.”
At first sight, it seems reasonable that plant-based food businesses such as publicly listed Beyond Meat and its privately owned rival, Impossible Foods, would be better for the environment than meat processors such as JBS. However, the evidence suggests otherwise. Each year, these processors kill and package millions of head of cattle, resulting in a substantial contribution to the emission of methane into the atmosphere from livestock.
The issue, according to opponents, is that neither Beyond Meat nor Impossible Foods publishes the quantity of greenhouse gas emissions generated by their operations, supply networks, or consumer waste generated. They also refuse to reveal the environmental consequences of their activities, such as the amount of water they use.
However, according to its website, Beyond Meat, customers who convert from animal to plant-based protein may “positively impact the world, the ecosystem, the climate, and even ourselves” by making this transition. It is the opinion of Impossible Foods that converting to plant-based meats “may be more effective than installing solar panels, driving an electric vehicle, or avoiding using plastic straws” when it comes to lowering your environmental impact.
In the words of Ricardo San Martin, the research director of the alternative meats programmed at the University of California, Berkeley, “the dominant narrative from the plant-based industry and the venture capitalists supporting it is that these companies are better for the environment, they’re better for health, they’re better for this and better for that.” “However, it is essentially a black box. So much of what is included inside these goods is kept under wraps.
“Everyone has a supply chain, and every supply chain has a carbon footprint associated with it.”
According to some estimates, the agricultural sector contributes to the production of a third of the world’s greenhouse emissions related to human activity, serves as a major cause of deforestation, and consumes as much as 70% of the world’s fresh water resources.
But it is careless in terms of monitoring and reporting not just its greenhouse gas emissions, but also the impact it has on forests and water usage, which is a concern. Ceres, a non-profit investor network, conducted an investigation of 50 North American food companies this year and discovered that the vast majority did not disclose emissions from crops and livestock used in their products, nor did they disclose emissions from the conversion of forests into agricultural use, among other things.
Companies would be required to report their emissions to the Securities and Exchange Commission in response to growing investor concerns about the risks of climate change on corporations. However, it is unclear whether the agency would require companies to report emissions from supply chains and consumer waste as well.