US poultry giant Tyson uses land ‘twice the size of New Jersey’ for animal feed, study finds | Environment

Tyson Foods uses between 9 and 10 million acres of farmland – an area almost twice the size of New Jersey – to produce corn and soybeans to feed the more than 2 billion animals it processes each year in the United States alone, according to new research.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) study released Wednesday also estimates that only about 5% of that land, or 408,000 acres, was enrolled in the sustainable agriculture programs announced by Tyson in 2018.

The UCS findings are based on calculations of how much corn and soybeans Tyson needs to feed the roughly 6 million head of cattle, 22 million hogs and nearly 2 billion chickens he has processed in the United States. United States in 2020, based on data reported by Tyson.

Area chart showing the estimated acres of farmland needed to produce forage crops for Tysons animals in 2020. The total area – 10 million acres – is almost double the size of New Jersey, 12.2 million acres.

Most consumers don’t realize the amount of land needed exclusively to support factory farming and its broader environmental impacts, said Marcia DeLonge, senior scientist in the UCS Food and Environment Program and co-author of the report. “We’re using this land in a way that creates a lot of pollution and a lot of problems that contribute to climate change,” DeLonge said.

Tyson Foods did not respond to requests for comment on the UCS research and questions about its food footprint.

Gidon Eshel, research professor of environmental physics at Bard College, said the scale of farming needed to produce animal feed contributes to many of the environmental problems of large-scale farming. These issues include changes to soil and natural water flow, the way solar energy relates to the earth, and disturbance to plants and animals. Pollution from fertilizers and pesticides is another big concern, along with the risks of contamination of drinking water and damage to ecosystems.

Area chart showing acres of farmland used to plant forage crops in the United States from 1950 to 2021. Soybeans and corn dominate acres used.

In 2020, 174 million acres were used exclusively to plant corn and soybeans in the United States – an area larger than Texas, which accounts for 56% of the 310 million acres of cultivated land in the United States – according to the UCS report. Some of these crops are used for biofuels and processed foods but, according to the US Department of Agriculture, most are used for feed crops. “Because [this land] could otherwise be used to grow food consumed by people, the production of fodder crops ultimately affects everyone,” the report states.

There is a significant opportunity cost in growing forage crops, Eshel said. “If you produce 100 pounds of corn and feed it beef, you get 3 pounds of edible beef. For this reason, using land to grow fodder crops instead of food [for humans] is incredibly questionable – it’s wasteful,” he said.

Although Tyson does not own any forage farms, its influence over the thousands of farmers in its supply chain is enormous. The company, which produces about 20% of the pork, beef and chicken consumed in the United States, is one of the largest purchasers of animal feed in the country.

In 2018, the company announced its commitment to “support improved environmental practices” on 2 million acres of corn it uses for forage crops by the end of 2020. Tyson said the commitment would “encourage grain growers to adopt more efficient fertilizer practices and take steps to reduce water runoff and soil loss.

Tom Hayes, the company’s then-CEO, said in a statement at the time: “The world needs a more sustainable food system, and we believe it’s up to big companies like ours to lead the way. with bold goals.”

Today, however, only 408,000 acres have been enrolled in sustainability pilot programs and the company has pushed back its deadline to meet the 2 million mark to 2025, citing mostly Covid-related delays.

Tyson’s dominance means the company could be a leader in sustainable food practices, but its current efforts fall short, DeLonge said. “Two million acres is a big milestone, but not only did they delay that goal, they also only hit 408,000 acres.”

Even if Tyson meets its 2 million acre commitment, that land represents only a fraction of the company’s overall impact. According to UCS estimates, Tyson’s total forage crop footprint is more than five times larger and nearly 23 times the size of its current progress.

DeLonge also questioned the lack of detail in Tyson’s pledge. “Enrolling those acres in pilot sustainability programs is a good first step, but that doesn’t necessarily mean those acres are being managed in a truly sustainable way,” she said.

Tyson Foods recently set a goal of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Sustainable forage farming means growing crops without damaging the environment, degrading resources or exploiting people, DeLonge said. “Achieving this would require building and maintaining healthy soils, managing water wisely, minimizing pollution, promoting biodiversity, and treating workers with dignity and respect,” she said.

Last August, the Guardian and UCS published a joint investigation which showed how Tyson’s virtual monopoly in his home state of Arkansas gives him enormous power, to the detriment of farmers and industry. environment. Tyson Food at the time defended its record as an employer and pointed to the economic activity created by the meat industry.

The new UCS report says the environmental impact of cropland management may worsen in the face of farmland consolidation, explaining that for decades land used to grow crops has been consolidated into fewer and bigger farms, undermining rural economies and communities across the United States. .

“When a single company, like Tyson, has so much influence over so much farmland, its actions can have significant consequences,” DeLonge said.

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