Ceres sent letters to Cargill, JBS, Purdue and Smithfield. 

BOSTON – Forty-five leading meat institutional investors are pressing some of the nation’s largest processors of meat and poultry products to address water pollution risks associated with feeding, slaughtering and processing livestock.

The investors sent joint letters to four of the largest producers of meat and poultry products in the industry, including Cargill Inc., JBS, Perdue Farms, and Smithfield Foods. The letters came after Hurricane Matthew in October inundated poultry and hog farms in North Carolina, flooding manure lagoons and killing more than 2 million chickens, turkeys and hogs.

“As investors analyzing water risks in our portfolios, we believe that robust management of water quality challenges is a critical aspect of risk management in the meat industry, and one of increasing importance in the context of climate change and growing weather extremes,” the investors wrote.

Investors who signed onto the letters are members of the nonprofit sustainability organization Ceres and the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR). Ceres provided the list of investor signatories.

“Broad mismanagement of local water resources can lead to devastating regulatory, reputational, and litigation risks, weakening a company’s ability to operate profitably,” said Kristel Verhoef, active ownership specialist at Actiam.

The effort comes on the heels of several shareholder proposals filed with other meat sector players, including Tyson Foods, Hormel Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride and Sanderson Farms, which call for improved water management.

Investors signing the letter asked the meat companies to assess the pollution impacts of their direct operations as well as their supply chains. The letter also requested that the companies develop water stewardship policies that cover: noncompliance and minimizing permitted releases to waterways; safe storage; management of animal waste; and reducing fertilizer runoff from animal feed production.

“These letters highlight the need for these companies to address the reputational, legal and regulatory risks of being a large polluter,” said Nadira Narine, ICCR senior program director and co-coordinator with Ceres. “All companies need to minimize effluent discharge beyond compliance levels, and set related goals and targets.”