How to make ending factory farming irresistible, delicious and lucrative

This is an excerpt from “Grilled: Turning Adversaries into Allies to Change the Chicken Industry” by Leah Garcés. Copyright Leah Garcés, 2019. It is published here with permission from BLOOMSBURY SIGMA, Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

Grilled: Turning Adversaries into Allies to Change the Chicken Industry, book cover

At the other end of the investment spectrum from Liz [Dee] and Nick [Garin] is Coller Capital, founded in 1990 by Jeremy Coller and one of the world’s leading investors in the private equity secondary market. The firm is headquartered in London, with offices in New York and Hong Kong, and has assets under management of approximately $17 billion. As the firm’s chief investment officer, Jeremy Coller is not exactly a radical activist, and yet he is the visionary behind an organization known as FAIRR — Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return.

Rosie Wardle heads up FAIRR, which studies financial risks inherent in using animals for food. FAIRR focuses on environmental, social, and governance-based risks, including the threat of antibiotic resistance. FAIRR are interested in this because of how risky they believe livestock farming is, and, on the flip side, how lucrative alternative-protein investment is shaping up to be. 

When they first started FAIRR, Rosie and her team sat down to look at what external risk factors existed for investors with regard to the current protein-production model, which is animal agriculture. Like Michael [Pellman Rowland, a financial adviser], she was shocked by what she found: the current animal protein supply chain is exposed to 28 key external risks that can damage a company’s financial value.

“We’ve got things like animal welfare, we’ve got disease outbreaks, resource scarcity, worker mistreatment, climate change,” Rosie says. “There’s a whole slew of issues which have the potential to create financial risks for companies.” These are not necessarily new ideas for investors, but FAIRR are drawing attention to their importance in a new way.

“Most investors were cognizant of these issues, but they were not connecting them with the livestock industry, and were surprised about the breadth of the potential issues linked to this sector,” Rosie says. “They were connecting the dots on some of these things, but they didn’t realize the extent and how it all links back to this kind of livestock production. The other issue was that there was no clear guidance for what investors should do, because when you start thinking about those 28 risk factors, it seems overwhelming.”

FAIRR began to mobilize around these concerns to protect investors. Investors worth a total of $5.9 trillion and growing have signed up to FAIRR’s initiatives, all expressing concern about those 28 risk factors related to livestock production. FAIRR and its investors began writing to major businesses like Kroger, Walmart, and McDonald’s, arguing that it is a material risk to investors to rely solely on animal proteins within their supply chains. As investors, they asked these companies what their strategies were to address this risk.

They didn’t just point out the risk. “We made some suggestions around what the components of that strategy could be,” Rosie says, “whether it’s investing in plant-based proteins, developing own-brand products through internal R&D, or acquiring alternative protein companies and products. We are asking the companies to diversify their protein mix — thereby reducing the amount of animal proteins in the supply chain.”

When a company gets a letter from a large group of global investors worth almost $6 trillion, they listen. Rosie says FAIRR got responses from nearly all the companies they contacted. “Essentially, what we’re trying to do is raise awareness among investors about the impacts of the current supply chain,” she says.

Rosie, Liz, and Michael all see the investment space going in one direction: away from animal-protein production and toward plant-protein or clean meat. While they may be guided by a similar moral compass, at the end of the day they wouldn’t get very far on their path if they weren’t also guided by the bottom line.

Animal activists have made huge strides over the past two decades. We’ve passed laws in multiple states to ban the extreme confinement of farmed animals, persuaded hundreds of food companies to improve their animal-welfare policies, exposed factory farming in the world’s largest media publications, and increased awareness of vegan eating. But it hasn’t been enough to tip the scales of justice.

The sad reality is that most people aren’t going to change based on morality alone. For too long, animal advocates have assumed that if we just provide more information, if we can only get people to understand how bad the situation is, we will win them over. Shining a light on the problem is essential to changing a broken system, but it’s not enough. It has led to some exciting progress, but making animal-free food more delicious, more convenient, and more affordable could be the key to ending factory farming. That’s why I’m so inspired by business and food-science innovators asking new questions to instigate serious change.

Liz Dee started with a simple question: “How can I create the world I want and do good while still running my family business?” Rosie and Michael asked, “How can we avoid material risk while maximizing our investments?” Seth Goldman asked, “How can we make the most delicious burger out there?” But it was the absolutely fabulous Joanna Lumley who had perhaps the best advice: tempt, don’t bully. Make the choice irresistible, delicious, and lucrative. That way, no one can resist.