In 2018, Tyson Foods, Inc. set a goal to improve environmental practices on two million acres of feed crops by 2020, a goal it trumpeted as the largest-ever by a U.S. protein company. Yet by June 2021, the company reported it had enrolled just 408,000 acres into a pilot program to work toward this goal. New analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) estimates that Tyson’s progress to date accounts for less than 5 percent of the company’s total “feed footprint.”
The analysis estimates that it took an area of farmland roughly twice the size of New Jersey to grow feed for the six million head of cattle, 22 million hogs and nearly two billion chickens processed by Tyson in 2020. The findings are based on statistics reported by Tyson and data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
As the largest processor of meat and poultry in the United States, Tyson Foods influences farming practices on an estimated 9 to 10 million acres of land – the equivalent of about 5 percent of all U.S. corn and soybean acres – used to produce feed for the chicken, beef and pork processed and sold by the company, according to UCS. Prevailing farming practices contribute to soil erosion and water pollution, and leave farmland and surrounding communities vulnerable to extreme weather.
“When a single company has leverage over so much farmland, its actions have substantial consequences,” said Dr. Marcia DeLonge, report author and senior scientist in the Food and Environment Program at UCS. “Tyson could use its power for good by supporting farmers to build healthy soil, but it has a long way to go.”
Science-based practices that restore the health of farm soils are needed to help farmers adapt to and mitigate the intensifying effects of climate change. A company like Tyson has an opportunity to support such solutions and should do so.
Tyson’s total estimated cropland footprint is more than five times the size of the company’s current land stewardship goal, and around 23 times Tyson’s progress to date. Since announcing the original two-million-acre goal, Tyson has pushed back the target date from 2020 to 2025.
Meanwhile, the company has lately resisted shareholder-driven efforts to improve the sustainability of its operations. In recent years, the Tyson family—which holds outsize voting power among shareholders—has beaten back resolutions to improve the company’s impacts on water quality and human rights. At its February 10 annual meeting shareholders are expected to vote on a resolution to study the company’s use of plastic and Styrofoam packaging. The company has urged shareholders to reject that proposal.
“I’m glad to see shareholders continuing to push Tyson on sustainability,” said DeLonge. “The company clearly has a lot of opportunity to do better, including promoting and supporting farming practices that will help farmers and surrounding communities, and give consumers better choices.”
If you have any questions or would like to arrange an interview with Dr. DeLonge, please contact Kyle Ann Sebastian.