Food sector making “more promises than progress” on regen agriculture

A GROUND-breaking study of 79 global agri-food firms has found that 50 (63%) publicly refer to the potential of regenerative agriculture as a solution to the climate and biodiversity crises. However, of these 50 companies, 64% (32/50) including Chipotle, Domino’s and Bunge, have not put in place any formal quantitative company-wide targets to achieve those ambitions.

Only 4 of these 50 (8%) companies have set financial targets to support farmers in their supply chain to incentivise the uptake of regenerative agriculture – Nestlé, PepsiCo, and JBS. Sodexo’s Good Eating Company will dedicate 15% of its food budget to regenerative agriculture. (Small donations to specific projects are excluded from these figures.)

The research, undertaken by FAIRR, a network supported by investors with over $70 trillion in combined assets, found that with no internationally agreed definition of “regenerative agriculture” a considerable variation occurs in how companies describe its benefits.

Øistein Thorsen, Chief Executive of FAI Farms said, “There is no universally agreed definition of regenerative agriculture. Some argue agreeing a definition is critical in order to effectively measure, report and communicate its impact in the market. Others argue that agreeing a single definition would make it static, disable context specificity and halt learning, creativity and growth within the space.

“At FAI we have found that it is not essential to define regenerative agriculture in order to understand it. We find that regeneration means different things to different farmers, based on their specific context. Regenerative agriculture is a set of principles, not a prescriptive list of activities, and as such there are no inherently regenerative practices, only regenerative outcomes. As a result, regeneration requires new mechanisms for observing, assessing and measuring positive outcomes across a whole system, with a focus on healthy soils & functional ecosystems, healthy animals & people​ and community and business resilience.”​

The incoming EU Green Claims Directive, due to come into force in 2026, will put an onus on any food company marketing in the EU to substantiate claims such as those on regenerative agriculture, with the penalty for non-compliance reaching up to 4% of annual turnover. Similarly, new guidance from the UK Advertising Standards Authority (in effect this year) stipulates that any environmental claims must be fully verifiable and substantiated.

Earlier this month, some of the biodiversity risks that regenerative agriculture is designed to mitigate – including nutrient pollution, loss of pollinators and poor soil health – were named as key risks food companies should report against in the new, finalised Taskforce on Nature-related Finance Disclosures (TNFD) framework. Companies must be able to substantiate how they manage nature-related risks and opportunities, as well as their impacts on nature.

Jeremy Coller, Chair and Founder of the $70 trillion-backed FAIRR network, said, “From soybeans to fish food, the agri-food sector is a significant driver of biodiversity loss and greenhouse gas emissions as it turns commodities into the food on our plates. It’s encouraging that two-thirds of the sector now report ‘regenerative agriculture’ as a way to mitigate this damage, but deeply concerning that only one third of these companies have implemented formal targets to institutionalise the take up of regenerative practices in their supply chain.

“FAIRR’s research shows there are more promises than progress in the agri-food sector. Investors will want to see measurable targets that match companies’ stated ambitions on regenerative agriculture if they are to ensure they don’t fall foul of anti-greenwash regulations.”

Jo Raven, Director of Thematic Research & Corporate Innovation at the FAIRR Initiative, said, “Increasing uptake of regenerative agriculture practices is key to addressing the climate and biodiversity crises. Transitioning away from conventional practices towards regenerative practices creates risk for farmers as it will likely require significant upfront investment, such as new machinery, agronomic support and experimentation, and could impact short-term productivity for farms.

“Only 4 of the 50 companies assessed by FAIRR have committed to de-risking the transition through some sort of financial support for farmers. Without adequate support for farmers, there can be no successful regenerative agriculture. Investors will want to see concrete action being taken to enable a just transition and ensure farmers do not bear the burden of change.”

Other findings in FAIRR’s research:

  • 63% (50/79) of analysed companies explicitly discuss ‘regenerative agriculture’ in public reporting. However only 36% of these firms (18/50) have put formal quantitative targets in place.
  • There is no globally agreed definition of regenerative agriculture nor the outcomes companies are looking to address through regenerative agriculture. FAIRR’s analysis found that ‘soil health’ and ‘carbon-related’ outcomes were the two most cited sustainability outcomes. These were followed by ‘improving water use and quality’, ‘biodiversity’ and ‘reduced use of agrochemicals’. Social outcomes related to farmer incomes, just transition and other economic themes (often referred to as livelihood in corporate disclosures) were the least cited.
  • Only 8% (4/50) of companies that publicly report on regenerative agriculture as an opportunity have financial commitments in place to support farmers in their supply chain to incentivise uptake of regenerative agriculture.
  • The report highlights several positive examples of regenerative commitments made by leading companies across the agri-food value chain. For example, Danone committed to sourcing 30% of key ingredients from farms transitioning to regenerative agriculture by 2025; General Mills to implement regenerative agriculture practices on 1 million acres of farmland by 2030; and Walmart, through a collaboration with PepsiCo, has set a target to eliminate 4 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions through its regenerative agriculture programme.

Watch our interview with Jo Raven from FAIRR

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