M&S faces up to challenge of cutting beef carbon emissions

Marks & Spencer’s Plan A 2025 strategy to cut greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) for raw materials, such as beef, will be “extremely challenging”, according Steve McLean, M&S’s head of agriculture and fisheries.

Speaking at a Chartered Institute of Marketing event in London on 14 June, McLean told the audience: “Reducing [GHG emissions] for some raw material we source, such as beef, will be doable, but reducing it by the amount we need to will be extremely challenging. Farmers are going to have to make fairly significant changes to their operations to be able to help us make our targets.” However, he stressed M&S had to meet such standards for the benefit of the planet.

Mclean also said M&S was committed to regularly measuring its progress against these standards. “From 2018 we will report on the use of our animal welfare and environmental outcomes - indicators for fresh meat, farmed fish, poultry, fresh milk and laying hens. We will use this data to shape future production standards and drive a continual improvement culture across our farm supply business.”

Meat, particularly beef, production has come under fire for its impact on the environment in areas such as water use and livestock’s generation of methane, an especially damaging GHG. Many studies have suggested that the meat supply chain is more damaging to the environment and climate than cultivating arable crops. As a result, pressure has been put on the food chain to reduce meat consumption.

Version 2 of its Plan A was launched by M&S on the 8 June, building on its original Plan A strategy introduced in 2007 to establish an ethical and environmental strategy for the company. Among updated targets is the aim to reduce the firm’s indirect GHG emissions in its supply chain by at least 13.3 million tonnes by 2030.

Other targets for M&S’ Plan A 2025 include ensuring that the 50 key raw materials M&S uses for products come from sources verified as respecting ecosystems, animal welfare and the wellbeing of people and communities.

By 2022, it  also plans to require all its strategic partners to have implemented a 10-year “strategic climate mitigation and adoption plan”.

The food supply chain, especially retailers, was facing unprecedented uncertainty and rapid change, and the industry would have to be flexible and adapt fast, said McLean.

However, he added it would be a mistake to compromise quality and standards in a “race to the bottom” on price in response to changing consumer behaviour as a result of the impact of Brexit and a flexible economy.

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