The vast global fast food industry, which generates $570 billion annually, is helping drive climate change.
Fast food is sure convenient for many of us who are constantly on the run, but it’s hardly good for us. Artery-clogging, processed fare at most fast food restaurants has helped contribute to record levels of obesity worldwide. Yet it isn’t just that fast food is bad for our hearts and waistlines; it’s also bad for the environment and the climate.
The vast global fast food industry, which generates $570 billion annually, is contributing to massive deforestation, food waste and plastic waste. It’s also helping drive climate change, says the green initiative Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return, which campaigns for more sustainable practices in factory farming by encouraging investors to support more environmentally practices.
In a new report, FAIRR stresses that the fast food industry has an outsize impact on the environment owing to its massive use of natural resources such as land and water when it comes to raising livestock and growing animal feed. “Across three key areas – greenhouse gas emissions, water and land use – animal proteins have a significant environmental footprint. This is increasingly creating material reputational, operational and market risks for companies sourcing animal protein-derived products,” the report’s authors note.
“Meat and dairy supply chains contribute significantly to global greenhouse gas emissions and are the biggest driver of global land use change. Further, they are increasing vulnerable to impacts from rising temperatures,” they add. “These risks present growing challenges to the supply security, sustainability ambitions, brand and reputation, and financial growth of food companies that depend on the sale of products that wholly or partially involve intensively farmed animal proteins.”
Vast tracks of forests have been felled and are being felled in places like South America to make way for pastures for cattle. In tandem with large-scale deforestation the fast food industry also depends heavily on the use of freshwater. Where once vibrant natural ecosystems thrived, there are now endless vistas of pasture and agricultural land.
Meanwhile, methane emitted by cattle for their milk or meat through flatulence is a major driver of climate change. With some 1.4 billion heads of cattle around the planet, vast amounts of the greenhouse gas are released into the atmosphere. By 2050 agriculture could account for more than two-thirds of greenhouse gases.
FAIRR is urging prominent investors to use their wealth to try and goad the fast food industry, including suppliers, into adopting more sustainable practices so as to reduce its environmental impacts and carbon footprint. More than 80 mega-rich investors have signed an open letter, asking fast food giants such as McDonald’s, KFC and Pizza Hut to “enact meaningful policies and targets.”
“When it comes to evaluating market risk, rising global temperatures and intensifying competition for water access are increasingly material factors for investors,” said Eugenie Mathieu, from Aviva Investors, one of the signatories. “This is especially the case in the meat and dairy sector. From field to fork, investors want to understand which food companies are monitoring and minimising the long-term environmental risks in their supply chain. This engagement sends a clear message to the fast food sector that investors expect them to deliver sustainable supply chains.”
McDonald’s, which serves 69 million customers daily at some 37,000 restaurants in 100 countries, has responded to the report by saying the company is enacting more sustainable practices. “This includes reducing emissions intensity in our supply chain through engagement and collaboration with suppliers and farmers – which we expect will prevent 150 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions from being released into the atmosphere by 2030,” McDonald’s said.
“This is the equivalent of taking 32 million passenger cars off the road for an entire year or planting 3.8 billion trees and growing them for 10 years,” it went on. “The target will enable McDonald’s to grow as a business without growing its emissions.”