Interview: our CSR measures and commitments
As part of our transparency action plan, we asked Axel Bigot, the Lactalis Group CSR Director, to answer a few questions on the Group’s major undertakings. Among the topics dealt with are the the Group’s CSR commitments, the measures put in place, and the medium and long term objectives.
Let’s begin with an overview: what role does the dairy sector play in respect for the environment?
According to the FAO, dairy production is one of the world’s largest agricultural sectors in terms of volume. Our sector clearly has a key role to play, enacted in a search for innovative solutions in the fight against global warming, to preserve water resources and biodiversity, and help ensure better traceability for animal feed ingredients in livestock farming (in particular, of soya).
We are also responsible for the optimization of our industrial processes and transportation activities in order, for example, to limit their greenhouse gas emissions. There are possibilities for action everywhere in our value chain.
If we consider the upstream of dairy, there are a number of challenges, the principal one without doubt being carbon footprint. The majority of greenhouse gas emissions are generated by the digestive process of cattle, which causes the emission of enteric methane. The nutrition of the animals is therefore an excellent place to start in order to reduce that carbon footprint.
In 2019 we became part of the “Eco-Sens” project run by our commercial partner VALOREX. In addition to a feed rich in flax seeds, which helps reduce enteric methane emissions, a special tool helps us track changes in these emissions by analyzing the fatty acid profile of the milk collected. Currently, 130 French dairy farms have joined this project. We are also testing it in the Czech Republic and in Sweden. It is also worth remembering the positive impact of livestock farming from the point of view of maintenance of meadows and hedgerows, and the high potential of carbon sequestration in the soil that it offers. Upstream emissions in this sector should therefore be considered in terms of “net footprint”.
Preservation of biodiversity
The preservation of biodiversity can also take other forms. For instance, soya can be a very important component in animal feed. Accordingly, the Group has set up a detailed methodology for calculating the footprint on forests of crops intended for animal feed, in 11 countries that account for 76 % of its milk supply. We are working on ways to develop awareness among our partner dairy farmers of the importance of protein autonomy for the feeding of their animals.
Moreover, the Lactalis Group has joined initiatives set up by the local players in the industrial food chain. The aim is to promote animal feed procurement practices with greater traceability and lower impact on biodiversity and forest ecosystems. The Group is also setting up a collaboration with an international NGO in order to reflect on possible actions to accelerate this dynamic.
What essentially are the CSR commitments being made by the Lactalis Group?
In order to reinforce our existing measures, we are currently expanding our CSR commitments on a multi-national scale within the Lactalis Group. We are currently working on a number of key challenges, such as:
- The reduction of our carbon footprint
- The circularity of our packaging
- The improvement of animal welfare.
As regards the preservation of forest ecosystems, 75 % of our purchases at Group level of ingredients derived from palm oil are scheduled to be RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) certified by the end of 2021. This is in fact planned to be 100 % for the Lactalis Ingredients entity. With each new project, we take these aspects into consideration in order to improve our impact on all fronts. Our recommendation to dairy farmers to use the new feed developed by the VALOREX Company is a good illustration of this. The feed is made from flax seeds, faba bean and alfalfa. It enables the reduction of enteric methane emissions from cows by 15% as well as the optimization of dairy production, and improves animal welfare.
What actual measures are being put in place to reduce the carbon footprint across the sector?
There are many examples we could cite in addition to the actions already described above involving cattle feed. In terms of the “upstream”, let’s take the example of the “2020 Milk Tank” project (Tank à Lait 2020). This project was a joint initiative with our supplier SERAP, the global leader in this type of equipment. The objective is to reduce the electricity consumption of our tanks by around 60% to 80%, resulting in a lower carbon imprint. More generally, our Carbon Footprint Committee is tasked with developing all the commitments, with deadlines, that the Group can make in order to reduce its carbon footprint across the value chain.
Our Carbon Footprint Committee is tasked with developing all the commitments, with deadlines, that the Group can make in order to reduce its carbon footprint across the value chain.
Are you doing anything with regard to water management?
We’ve concentrated our efforts in water management on the manufacturing side. For example, we’ve developed a system for recovering the water that evaporates during the milk concentration and drying processes. This water, known as “process water“, can be treated and then reused in the plant cleaning systems. So this allows us to reduce our consumption of clean water.
How do you ensure animal welfare in all the farms you work with?
In France, we’re developing a new version of our upstream dairy charter Cap sur l’Avenir, which includes new criteria for measuring animal welfare. We are adopting a collaborative approach with our “ecosystem”. For example, we’re testing a new measurement tool designed through our interprofessional collaboration.
We’re also discussing possible commitments to an international NGO as well as our main Dairy Producer Organizations. On the international front, we uphold the Five Freedoms defined by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). Moreover, we became members this year of the Welfare Quality Network, a scientific organization working to improve international standards of animal welfare.
What are the medium and long term targets of Lactalis’ CSR commitments?
Around the end of 2021 or the start of 2022, we shall make known our commitments and deadlines concerning the reduction of our carbon footprint, improvements to the impact of our packaging, and animal welfare. These are our priorities for this year, although we are obviously working on all the other CSR challenges we face, such as those related to Human Resources or food wastage and nutrition.
In the long term, one of our aims is to achieve universal awareness across the sector. From our suppliers right up to our customers, everyone has a part to play in social and environmental matters. Given the complexity of the ecosystem that makes up the dairy sector, we are convinced that change can only be effective if it is established collectively.
 The water extracted during the concentration/drying processes.