Politics of Poverty

Frosted Flakes, now with added carbon!

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Oxfam Action Corps members and staff visited Kellogg headquarters in Chicago this week. Photo: Elena Bazini / Oxfam America

Oxfam calls on General Mills and Kellogg to lower agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.

This is a joint post by Irit Tamir and Heather Coleman.

The truth behind our favorite breakfast may be hard to swallow. General Mills and Kellogg – the companies behind some of our favorite cereals like Cheerios and Frosted Flakes – are failing to address their contribution to climate change or to call on governments and other industries to act.

In a new report released today, Standing on the Sidelines: Why food and beverage companies must do more to tackle climate change, Oxfam highlights the role the ‘Big 10’ food and beverage companies play in driving climate change. It turns out the food and beverage industry is both highly vulnerable to climate change and a major contributor to the problem – and they’re not doing nearly enough to tackle it.

The greenhouse gases emitted by the ‘Big 10’ food and beverage companies are equivalent to those by the 25th most polluting country in the world.

The report, which specifically focuses on General Mills and Kellogg as two laggards in the industry, is part of Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign, which reveals the social and environmental impacts of the of the world’s biggest food and beverage companies. Previous “Behind the Brands” campaigns have convinced some of the biggest food companies on the planet to adopt stronger policies against land grabs and to protect women’s rights in their supply chains.

This investigation of the food industry specifically on climate change comes at the heels of a new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report finding that climate change has already meant declines in global yields of staple crops, and it is set to worsen. These trends will set back the fight against hunger by decades with an extra 50 million people – equivalent to the population of Spain – potentially at risk of hunger by 2050. An additional 25 million children under five years of age – the same number of children under five in the US and Canada – will face malnourishment.

Climate change will also set back the food industry, as rising commodity prices will drive up the retail price of products like Kellogg’s Corn Flakes by as much as 44 percent and General Mills’ Kix cereal by up to 24 percent over the next 15 years.

With these rising prices partly due to climate trends, food companies should lead the way towards reducing emissions. If they don’t, who will?

The ‘Big 10’ companies – but especially General Mills and Kellogg – are silent accomplices to this unfolding crisis. Here’s a striking example. We know that farming agricultural raw materials such as maize (corn), palm oil, soy, and sugar cane are responsible for approximately 25% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions overall, and that these emissions are growing as demand for food rises. These ingredients in your favorite food products constitute around half of the ‘Big 10’ companies’ total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

And while the ‘Big 10’ have set emissions reductions targets for their operations, none of the ‘Big 10’ have committed to clear reduction targets specific to their agricultural emissions. General Mills and Kellogg don’t even publicly report on agricultural emissions through the industry-standard Carbon Disclosure Project – something that the vast majority of food and beverage companies are already doing. Lack of transparency and regular reporting on the single biggest source of emissions in a companies’ value chain is bad practice at best, negligence at worst.

While General Mills and Kellogg have recently adopted zero deforestation palm oil policies, these do not extend to other relevant commodities. (Only Mars and Nestle have policies that do so.) Additionally, Oxfam’s investigations in Indonesia and Liberia show that General Mills and Kellogg purchase palm oil through suppliers that have cleared and burned forests or are poised to do so. Companies must act fast to immediately engage their suppliers in implementing and achieving their ambitious palm oil commitments.

While Unilever, Coca-Cola and Mars are the exceptions, Oxfam also found that the ‘Big 10’ are not doing enough to publicly urge government and other businesses to do more to tackle climate change, which includes challenging damaging or inadequate positions of trade associations that represent them.

If we don’t have a voice that is equally as orchestrated with arguments that are at least equally as compelling, then governments are going to be taking very timid decisions and they are not going to be tipping the scale.” Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) calling for companies to urgently step up and counter regressive lobbying

It’s time for General Mills and Kellogg, along with the rest of the ‘Big 10’, to get off the sidelines. If the world is to keep within a “safe” 2°C threshold of global temperature rise—the globally-agreed upon scientific standard needed to avoid catastrophic global climate impacts—global agricultural emissions need to fall to zero.

There is no stronger or more compelling business voice to demand meaningful climate action than the food and beverage industry. They have the most to lose by staying on the sidelines.

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