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Press Releases & Updates

20 MAY 2014

‘Big 10’ food companies together emit more greenhouse gases than four Scandinavian countries combined, Oxfam says

International agency says Kellogg’s and General Mills are not doing enough to tackle climate change

Oxfam, which has been monitoring the “Big 10” food and beverage companies under its Behind the Brands campaign, has found that they emit such a high volume of greenhouse gases that if they were a single country, they would be the 25th most polluting in the world. The “Big 10” are highly vulnerable to climate change and also major contributors to the problem. Kellogg’s and General Mills have not done enough to combat climate change, and Oxfam is calling on them to employ policies to do so as soon as possible.

Oxfam said in a report titled “Standing on the Sidelines” which was released today that the “Big 10” – Associated British Foods, Coca-Cola, Danone, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Mars, Mondelēz International, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever – emit 263.7 million tonnes of greenhouse gases per year.[1] That is more than Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway combined. About half of the companies’ unaddressed emissions come from agricultural production in their supply chains, yet none have committed to a target to reduce their total agricultural emissions. Oxfam believes this is an area the companies are neglecting.

The “Big 10” should be capable of cutting their combined emissions by a further 80 million tonnes by 2020, roughly equivalent to the emissions from all the vehicles in Los Angeles, Beijing, London and New York City combined.

The food system drives around 25 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and these emissions are growing as demand for food rises. Experts say that if the world is to keep within a “safe” 2 degree Celsius threshold by 2050, net global emissions from agriculture and forests need to fall to zero. Yet emissions trends are currently heading in the opposite direction.

“Too many of today’s food and beverage giants are crossing their fingers and hoping that climate change won’t disrupt the food system, imagining somebody else will fix it. The ‘Big 10’ companies generate over US$1 billion a day and have great power to influence global food chains. This industry needs to do more to work towards ‘zero hunger’ in the world while undergoing a revolution in their production methods,” Oxfam International executive director Winnie Byanyima.

Climate change contributes to storms, floods, droughts and shifting weather patterns. This affects food supplies and is putting pressure on prices, causing more hunger and poverty. Experts predict that by 2050 there will be 50 million more people made hungry because of climate change.

Oxfam singled out Kellogg’s and General Mills as two of the worst on climate and is calling on them to lead the sector toward more responsible policies and practices. Oxfam says they should disclose their agricultural emissions and biggest polluting suppliers, set targets to cut emissions from their supply chains and speak out more to other industries and governments to address the climate crisis.

Some of the “Big 10” companies admit that climate change is already beginning to harm them financially. Unilever says it now loses US$415 million a year, while General Mills reported losing 62 days of production in the first fiscal quarter of 2014 alone because of extreme weather conditions that are growing worse because of climate change. Oxfam projects that the price of key products like Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and General Mills’ Kix cereal could spike by up to 44 per cent in the next 15 years because of climate change.

Unilever, Coca-Cola, and Nestlé were all mentioned as being relatively more assertive in their policies and actions to tackle climate change, though they all still have a lot of room for improvement.

Oxfam’s investigation shows:

  • All of the “Big 10” recognise the need to reduce indirect agricultural emissions within their supply chains and seven of them annually measure and report on these emissions through the Carbon Disclosure Project – but not Kellogg, General Mills or Associated British Foods.
  • An Indonesian company that sells palm oil to Cargill, a supplier of Kellogg’s and General Mills and other food industry giants, is allegedly involved in burning forest land to produce palm oil and contributing to a massive forest fire that alone created greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the annual emissions from 10.3 million cars.
  • Only Unilever and Coca-Cola commit to reduction targets that address emissions in their supply chains, but none of the “Big 10” have committed to clear reduction targets specific to their agricultural emissions.
  • None of the “Big 10” require their suppliers to set targets to reduce emissions.
  • All of the “Big 10” have set targets to reduce emissions from their operations, but these are often not science-based and do not reflect their full contribution to the problem.
  • Several of the “Big 10” companies have committed to ambitious timelines to end deforestation in their supply chains for palm oil but only Mars and Nestle extend these policies to other commodities that are drivers of deforestation and land use change.
  • With Unilever, Coca-Cola and Mars being the exceptions, the companies are not doing enough to publicly urge the government and other businesses to do more to tackle climate change, including by challenging damaging or inadequate positions of trade associations that represent them.

“The food industry has a moral imperative and a business responsibility to dramatically step up its efforts to tackle climate change,” Byanyima said. “The ‘Big 10’ companies are failing to use their power responsibly and we will all suffer the consequences. Kellogg’s and General Mills in particular are not doing their part. These companies should be leading the fight to help stop climate change from making people hungry. It’s time for them to get off the sidelines.”

Notes to editors:

About Oxfam

Oxfam is a worldwide development organisation that mobilises the power of people against poverty.

For media enquiries, please contact:

Kit Chau
Oxfam Assistant Communications Officer
Phone: +852 3120 5272

[1] They emit 263.7 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year.