Fertile ground

Cargill collaborates with WWF on sustainable production solutions
World Wildlife Fund has a vision of a more sustainable world. Cargill is helping find solutions.

While beef and palm oil may seem to have little in common, Cargill, with its commitment to preserving the vitality and conservation of natural resources, has found fertile ground to work with the world’s leading conservation organization on both.  Cargill and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) are collaborating on two initiatives, sustainable beef and sustainable palm oil, while discussions continue on more. “Both projects are about trying to help the industries move to a better place” when it comes to environmental impacts, says Dave McLaughlin, vice president and managing director, agriculture, at World Wildlife Fund.

Beef production impact

“Many people aren’t getting enough high grade protein in their diets already,” says John Keating, beef business unit leader at Cargill. “As the world’s population grows to an estimated nine billion people by 2050, we believe that beef has an important role to play in nourishing people.”

Right now, there is no consensus on the best methodology to evaluate the total impact of the beef system. Called life cycle assessments, several studies of the beef supply chain have been completed with little consensus and differing results (due to inherent differences in scope, methods and data sources).

Cargill is providing financial support and technical expertise to support WWF’s beef life cycle working group. The project is designed to help build consensus around the six to eight key impacts of beef production and highlight areas of agreement, disagreement and insufficient data.

“We want to make sure that beef is produced in a responsible and sustainable manner, where best practices are widely shared and that the public has accurate information,” says Scott Hartter, vice president, Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) at Cargill Meat Solutions. 

Global Conference on Sustainable Beef

Cargill’s financial support also includes sponsorship of a Global Conference on Sustainable Beef held November 1st to the 3rd, 2010 in Denver, Colorado, United States. “WWF has established itself as a convener,” says McLaughlin. “We bring together stakeholders to try to establish a collaborative atmosphere and bring down barriers.” 

While WWF has been involved in multi-stakeholder initiatives in soy, palm oil, cotton and other areas, with beef, “it’s not quite clear yet what format might be the best way forward,” says McLaughlin. “We need to work together to establish best practices and the best way to implement them.”

Assessing palm oil sustainability among suppliers

Cargill is also working with WWF to undertake an assessment of its palm oil suppliers in Indonesia as part of its continued commitment to sustainable palm oil production. The assessment will help gauge current progress amongst Cargill's suppliers to implement the principles and criteria established by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

"We already have responsible palm production policies on our own plantations and we want to play our part by working with the industry and the Indonesian government to encourage the adoption of sustainable production practices,” says Paul Conway, senior vice president at Cargill. 

Assessing palm oil sustainability.The assessment will identify progress on environmental practices. Since the project’s August launch, McLaughlin says WWF has field tested the audits at one plantation and “it worked very well.” The first phase of the assessment, focused on estates from Cargill's key suppliers with the highest biodiversity concerns, is expected to be completed in early 2011.

Two projects – one objective

Regardless of whether the commodity is beef or palm oil, drawing people together to find common ground for better practices connects well to WWF’s goal – to help protect and conserve priority species, places and livelihoods.  “Our working relationship with Cargill has been very good,” McLaughlin adds. “I don’t want to underestimate the magnitude of the challenges. But we’ve had good, open, honest discussions about the best way forward.”