Will Big Food Stand Up To Big Oil On Climate Change?
It’s not surprising that major fossil fuel companies have invested big money in thwarting meaningful action on climate change. Faced with threats to their profits, if not their very existence, of course they are spending up big to manipulate public opinion and to fund politicians who are sympathetic to their cause.
Clearly, money talks. So where can we find an economic sector with both the money and the incentive to take on the fossil fuel industry over climate change? Greenpeace’s Kumi Naidoo and Oxfam’s Winnie Byanyima have made a plea for food companies to step up to the plate.
A year ago we discussed the risk facing the world’s favourite brew faced from climate change. Highly demanding in its requirements for temperature and humidity, coffee may not easily adapt to new regions as climate patterns move. And as the second most traded commodity in the world after oil, its loss would be disastrous for coffee growers and could send numerous companies to the wall.
The chocoholics among us are also looking at a future devoid of our favourite fix. But far more concerning are predictions that shifting climatic zones and an increase in the frequency of floods and droughts pose a major threat to the production of staple crops. It isn’t just farmers and the poor that will bear the brunt of disruptions in global food supply. So will the profits of major food companies.
So will “Big Food” stand up to “Big Oil” and show leadership on an issue that threatens its bottom line?
Not if the reported views of Nestlé chairman Peter Brabeck hold sway. He puts climate change down to natural cycles and argues for adaptation rather than mitigation. No concern there, it seems, that two of the commodities of overwhelming importance to his company are perhaps the most at risk from climate change.
Fortunately, Nestlé as a whole does appear to take climate change seriously. Unilever, Mars, General Mills, and Kraft are some of the other big food companies that are working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, amongst other sustainability initiatives.
But… are they concerned enough about the threat to their future profits to go head to head with the fossil fuel lobby? Will they spend big on educating the public of the threat to food production and lobbying political decision makers? There doesn’t seem to be much sign of it yet. And given how dependent food production is on fossil fuels, the food industry might be reluctant to bite the hand that “feeds” it.
Much as it would be entertaining, perhaps even desirable, to see the corporate equivalent of a bare-knuckle brawl over an issue as important as our food supply, it doesn’t look like breaking out anytime soon. Starting a grass-roots “save our coffee” or “chocoholics against climate change” movement could be a better way to go.