Upfield releases breakdown of methane emissions and urges food companies to do the same

Dive Brief:

  • Plant-based margarines and spreads maker Upfield reported 7.5% of its total greenhouse gas footprint stems from methane. The company released a report detailing the methane emissions in its supply chain this week, saying it is the first time a major food company has provided this information. Upfield worked with sustainability groups Anthesis and Quantis to develop the emissions-tracking methodology.
  • The company, which calls itself the largest plant-based food company, said even though dairy makes up only 1% of its total ingredients, 63% of its methane emissions come from dairy. The company said it aims to eliminate dairy from its operations. A total of 27% of its methane stems from tropical and liquid oils.
  • Targeting methane became a greater call to action at last fall’s United Nations COP26 climate conference, which set a goal of globally reducing methane emissions by 45% by 2030. Companies like Upfield are addressing these concerns, which are top of mind for sustainability-minded consumers, to push other companies to take greater action.

Dive Insight:

Methane, a greenhouse gas that causes temperatures to rise by trapping radiation in the atmosphere, is formed in soil, water and the stomachs of some animals. The livestock sector accounts for 31% of the total methane emissions produced from human activity in the U.S., with dairy as a significant contributor, according to a fact sheet from nonprofit Sustainable Dairy. Cattle that produce dairy represent 53% of the methane emissions stemming from manure in the United States.

Upfield, which spun off from Unilever in 2017 in an $8 billion sale to private equity firm KKR, is aiming to get ahead of the pack on the issue by being transparent about the methane that it produces. Sally Smith, the company’s global director of sustainability, said despite COP26’s focus on methane, it was primarily centered on fossil fuels. There was not enough discussion of methane emissions in the food sector.

“We are disclosing our methane footprint to set a precedent for methane transparency in the food sector,” Smith said in a press release. “We want to help establish a methodology for measuring and disclosing methane, and to encourage action to rapidly reduce this harmful greenhouse gas. If you think there is a better way to disclose methane, we would like to hear it.”

Since animals produce a large amount of methane, it is more difficult for meat and dairy companies to lower their emissions than plant-based food providers. Since methane is a small but still significant percentage of Upfield’s carbon footprint, the company is more likely to want to share the emission of the gas in its supply chain than one more reliant on animal-derived ingredients.

Butter giant Land O’Lakes, which has made a significant sustainability push, has been addressing some of the methane in its supply chain. In 2018, the company announced a collaboration with technology company CalBio on methane digesters for farms in order to meet California’s standards that call for a 40% reduction in dairy and livestock-based methane by 2030. This process will inform its methane-curbing solutions outside of California, Land O’Lakes said.

Green groups have long criticized the emissions contributions of the meat sector, and there is work being done to curb the impact of it. Ingredients giant Royal DSM is developing a feed additive for cows that is said to suppress the enzyme that produces methane in cows, which could reduce emissions by up to 90%. DSM North America president Hugh Welsh told Food Dive in January that it is currently waiting for regulatory approval for its use, and it is working with meat providers including JBS to eventually implement it.