US Food Giant Faces Vote on Pesticides

Resolution calls for transparent disclosures on current usage and reduction plans. 

US shareholders are upping their demands for sustainability in agriculture and are set to challenge food processing and commodities trading corporation Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) on the use of pesticides in its supply chain during its AGM on 5 May. 

Filed by shareholder advocacy non-profit As You Sow, the resolution highlighted the risks pesticides present for pollinator species, human health, farmer resiliency and biodiversity. 

“ADM also subjects itself to significant regulatory risk by failing to measure and manage pesticide use in its agricultural supply chains,” the resolution noted, adding that investors are concerned they are not able to fully reflect this material risk in their investment decisions.  

Shareholders have requested that ADM prepare and publish a report providing an overview of whether, and how, the company is measuring the use of pesticides in its agricultural supply chains. 

The report should include the type and number of pesticides avoided annually through targeted strategies like regenerative agriculture programmes, priority pesticides the company aims to reduce usage of, and targets and timelines for pesticides reductions. 

ADM is a global nutrition company which is headquartered in Chicago and aims to provide food solutions and services for people, livestock, aquaculture and pets.  

As one of the world’s largest nutrition companies, ADM is a leader in both human and animal nutrition. We unlock the power of nature and transform crops into ingredients and solutions for foods, beverages and supplements for people all around the world, and we provide a complete range of solutions and services for livestock, aquaculture and pets. 

Regenerative agriculture includes reducing soil disturbance, maximising plant diversity, and keeping the soil covered. It can also draw carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the soil. 

“As a global food processing company, ADM has the ability to engage with suppliers to collect and disclose pesticide data and create measurable outcomes for pesticide risk management. ADM’s unwillingness to begin these actions will prevent it from catching up to other major and competing companies,” the resolution noted. 

As You Sow filed a similar resolution against B&G Foods, a Manhattan-based producer of pickles, relish and condiments, although an agreement has been reached and the resolution has since been withdrawn. 

Shareholder advocacy against pesticides is already changing existing practices, As You Sow said. In 2019, just one out of 14 companies surveyed by As You Sow had implemented a regenerative agriculture programme, while three had public goals to reduce chemical pesticide usage in their supply chains. By 2021, the number of food companies with regenerative agriculture programmes had increased to 12 out of 17, and seven had pledged to reduce pesticides in their supply chains. 

Other food companies, such as General Mills, now disclose metrics for tracking and reporting pesticide use by suppliers, As You Sow said, including the amount used and the pest or disease being controlled.  

A world without pesticides 

A variety of innovative solutions to growing food and crops without resorting to pesticides are being implemented.  

In the Netherlands, sustainable greenhouses have been erected across the country to replicate ideal growing conditions for fruit and vegetables, the covering providing the protection necessary to forego pesticides.  

Further, indoor vertical farms producing leafy greens, like kale, provide optimal aeroponic conditions that protect the produce from disease or pests. Dutch firm PlantLab recently received €20 million in its first round of funding to develop a technology that would better enable the urban production of vegetables in vertical farming without resorting to pesticides.  

Sustainable agriculture was also identified as one of the biggest themes targeted by trend-linked investments by asset owners, according to a report by the World Economic Forum and investment consultants Mercer.  

This follows mounting concerns about the agriculture sector’s continuing contributions to climate change and biodiversity loss. 

The sector was responsible for 31% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2019, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Of the total 16.5 billion tonnes of emissions from agri-food systems, 7.2 billion tonnes originated from “within the farm gate”, 3.5 billion from land use change, and 5.8 billion from supply chain processes, the FAO said.  

The World Wide Fund for Nature has previously noted that beef and soy are the biggest drivers of deforestation in the Amazon. The latter also increases the risk of further zoonotic disease-driven pandemics.  

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