The food supply chain connects issues of human welfare and environmental preservation, motivating agriculturalists to consider the use of pesticides and the implications they hold. Meanwhile, investors have taken their own stand on pesticides with efforts to boost environmental management and advocate for a more sustainable supply chain.
Proponents of pesticides argue that they are necessary to maximize food production and keep prices low. Citing figures that indicate disease, weeds, and pests spoil up to 40% of crops globally, many farming organizations claim this figure would rise significantly without the use of pesticides. For investors, taking action on pesticides means weighing these arguments against the environmental consequences.
The Environmental Impact of Pesticides
Despite advocacy from farmers for pesticides and their necessity in the food supply chain, organizations such as the Pesticide Action Network North America call for a dramatic reduction in their use in agriculture. The group maintains that pesticides can harm pollinators, cause soil degradation, and even damage human health. Evidence abounds, too, as studies have linked the use of pesticides to health concerns, including neurological diseases, chronic illnesses, and cancer.
Even common weed killers such as glyphosate have shown evidence of severe adverse effects on honeybee populations worldwide. The European Union banned the use of the crop fungicide chlorothalonil in 2020 over its potential harm to bees, as well as to fish and humans. Chlorothalonil is nevertheless still used in many countries and remains the most popular fungicide in the United States.
Investor Pressure Carries Weight
Many firms have made efforts to support sustainable food supply chains. Yet, less attention has fallen on addressing the role of pesticides, which can present additional legal and reputational risk. As You Sow’s 2019 Pesticides in the Pantry report found a lack of pesticide risk management on the part of large-scale food producers such as Campbell’s, Kraft Heinz, and Post Holdings. Such firms face rising pressure to curtail the use of pesticides as investors support new sustainable supply chain solutions and engage shareholders.
Recent wins include Kellogg’s commitment to cease the use of pre-harvest glyphosate in its major wheat and oat supply chains by 2025 following affirmative shareholder resolutions tabled by As You Sow. Following a multi-year engagement strategy by impact investor Green Century Funds and As You Sow, General Mills also pledged to substantially lower its reliance on pesticides and has begun reporting data on its usage.
Green Century also successfully engaged with Home Depot through shareholder resolutions; the company agreed earlier this year to do more to promote the use of natural pesticides. After a similar strategy from Green Century, Tractor Supply Company consented to take steps to mitigate risks around the sale of glyphosate-based products. As You Sow encourages corporations to set targets and timelines, detail annual progress in the reduction of pesticide use, and promote alternatives. For example, farming techniques such as alternating between crops can significantly cut pesticide use.
These wins and others demonstrate how investors can promote more sustainable choices for crop development and make a difference in how large food producers manage their supply chains.