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Stewart Leeth of Smithfield Foods Joins GHI Board
Global Harvest Initiative welcomes new member company, Smithfield Foods, Inc., and Stewart Leeth, Smithfield Vice President of Regulatory Affairs and Chief Sustainability Officer, to board membership. In this interview for the Harvest 2050 blog, Stewart describes how he became involved in agriculture, as well as Smithfield’s commitments to sustainability and reducing hunger.
Stewart, tell us a bit about how you became involved in agriculture and your role at Smithfield.
At Smithfield, I am responsible for leading sustainability efforts and regulatory initiatives that span the entire company. Our robust sustainability program focuses on animal welfare, employee relations, environmental stewardship, food safety and quality, and community development. I am also responsible for state and local government affairs at the company and for legal affairs for Smithfield’s hog production division.
My professional background is in environmental law and litigation. I worked for the government and later in private practice focusing on those issues. My experience in agriculture and food production began when I was a partner at an international law firm representing companies in those sectors, among others.
One of the things that attracted me to Smithfield was the company’s strong desire to transform into an environmental leader and the opportunity to help make that happen.
In GHI’s 2016 Global Agricultural Productivity Report® (GAP Report®) we talk about the business case for climate leadership. Tell us about Smithfield’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions and environmental impact, and why this makes good business sense.
Late last year, Smithfield became the first major protein company to announce a far-reaching greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goal throughout its entire supply chain. From feed grain to packaged bacon, our goal is to reduce GHG emissions 25 percent over 2010 levels by 2025. This is a reduction of 4 million metric tons, which is equivalent to removing 900,000 cars from the road. We collaborated with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and various universities in setting this goal, and will continue to track our progress with their support.
Our GHG reduction goal makes good business sense at several different levels which, taken as a whole, will make Smithfield a more efficient company. For example, a portion of our GHG footprint includes our own grain supply chain, and our efforts to meet our goal will focus on those areas. By helping grain farmers optimize their fertilizer usage and land use, we are increasing our local grain supplies and supporting local communities and water quality.
On our own hog farms, we are developing biogas projects, that provide a renewable energy source and also helps our farms avoid operation costs associated with things like managing storm water.
At our processing plants, the company is focused on energy efficiency projects including refrigeration, boiler, and other equipment upgrades. We will also enhance our logistics networks to more efficiently track vehicles and manage fleets while reducing costs and emissions. All of these projects have very real business advantages.
Improving the productivity and sustainability of agricultural production is essential to achieve global food security and poverty reduction goals. How is Smithfield engaged in this effort and who are your partners?
It is critical to balance the increase in global food demand with today’s environmental concerns. Doing so requires the entire agriculture industry to forge a path toward sustainability. A valued-added, innovative approach to sustainability is exactly what we are working toward at Smithfield. For example, we are collaborating with EDF and other partners to advance on-farm conservation practices while still boosting crops grown for hog feed – a major cost for the company, contract and independent farmers.
We continue to look for ways to boost feed efficiency so that our animals extract as much energy as possible from the food they eat, reducing the overall amount of feed needed for these animals.
Rural hunger is a challenge around the world, but also here at home in the United States. How does Smithfield advance food security efforts in rural communities?
Through Smithfield’s hunger-relief initiative, Helping Hungry Homes®, we donate thousands of pounds of protein to food banks across the country including those in rural areas. For food banks and those facing food insecurity, protein is a much-needed and often difficult to acquire resource. To date, this program has donated nearly 80 million pounds of protein to communities across the country.
Smithfield is also working with the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) on Rally Against Hunger, an initiative that raises awareness about rural hunger in North Carolina and across the nation and the strategies that exist to solve hunger.
Nationally, the project will raise awareness of the issue of rural hunger and solutions to effectively combat food insecurity in these communities by increasing access to and participation in the federal nutrition programs. In North Carolina, the project will analyze state participation rates, and work to bring more eligible rural people into these programs by working directly with school districts, schools, county officials and other organizations in Scotland, Robeson, Duplin and Lenoir counties.
As a livestock company, what insights do you hope to provide to GHI’s work?
Smithfield is well-recognized for its leading animal care and environmental programs – part of our commitment to producing good food in a responsible way. This commitment aligns with GHI’s work to improve global food and nutrition security by accelerating agricultural productivity and conserving natural resources. Through our partnership, Smithfield will be able to share insights and potential solutions to help improve productivity of animal agriculture.