Walmart’s ‘Regenerative Foodscape’ – Why beef is the key to their strategy to usurp the regenerative ag space.

This article is part of a series Civil Eats is currently doing on Walmart and the Walton family.

Walmart’s ‘Regenerative Foodscape’

November 7, 2023

It’s a long article so I’ve provided some excerpts from the article more relevant to UFCW.

The article also does a thorough analysis of why beef is the key to their strategy to usurp the regenerative ag space.

And, the article delves into how Walmart is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to try to make sure that the currently vague definition of Regenerative Agriculture will be defined by them in a way that does not change its business model premised on squeezing stakeholders in its food supply chains. This includes doling out hundreds of millions of dollars to environmental groups like the Environmental Defense Fund to keep control of the narrative.


Walmart’s efforts to redefine itself as a regenerative company are at odds with its low-cost model, and combined with the Walton family’s vast investments in regenerative agriculture, have the potential to remake the marketplace.

If Walmart executives are serious about being a regenerative company, “they’re saying we are going to downsize our agricultural supply chains, integrate all of those external costs into our margins, and price things accordingly. If Walmart does that, it goes against every grain of their corporate culture.”

But Walmart’s business model appears otherwise unchanged, and its suppliers say the company’s foundational obsession with cost hasn’t waned. “They’ll find whoever has the lowest price in the country, and you have to be less than that,” explained one salad dressing CEO who asked to remain anonymous to protect his business interests. “Then, they’ll lower it every few years. If you don’t say yes, they pull your product.”

Regenerative Poultry/Ag Alliance

Builders Initiative, the office’s philanthropic arm, has given nearly $180 million to food and agriculture grantees since its founding, including a heralded regenerative chicken project [i.e.
Regenerative Ag Alliance/Tree Range
] in the Midwest and a research project using new technology to map the location of CAFOs to better regulate their environmental impacts.


Without a federal standard to govern the practices, farmer, industry, and government groups from every corner of the agricultural landscape are defining regenerative differently. The Regenerative Organic Alliance and Rodale Institute promote a version of regenerative that rests squarely on a foundation of organic practices without pesticides, while some groups call attention to regenerative practices’ Indigenous roots and believe commitments to regenerative should include justice and equity for farmers, workers, and communities. In California, the state department of agriculture is sifting through various concepts in an attempt to craft an official definition.

So far, Walmart and its suppliers have primarily adopted one version of regenerative: getting commodity crop farmers to embrace practices that reduce emissions and have other environmental benefits while maintaining pesticide-dependent monocrop systems. It has worked with rice farmers in Arkansas to implement practices that reduce methane emissions and alongside Campbell’s to help wheat farmers optimize nitrogen use. In July, the company announced a seven-year partnership with PepsiCo to pay farmers to improve their practices; in October, it publicized a new regenerative partnership with General Mills.

But whether Walmart can call itself a regenerative company will be chiefly decided by what kind of meat the company sells on its shelves day after day. Sofía De La Parra evaluates food producers and retailers at FAIRR, an initiative that tracks data showing how much companies’ animal agriculture supply chains are contributing to issues including greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss.

Based on their expertise and calculations, she said, FAIRR estimates that about 95 percent of Walmart’s greenhouse gas emissions come from its supply chains and that about 33 percent come directly from its meat supply chains.

And right now, nearly all of that meat comes from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), massive industrial animal farms that confine 99 percent of the animals raised for food in this country and which cause widespread pollution that threatens public health. Even if Walmart switched course immediately, said Alan Lewis of Natural Grocers, it would take the company 30 years to get to a place where executives could say their meat supply chains qualify as regenerative. If they made that claim today, Lewis added, it would be “an outright fabrication.”

Walmart sells one line of grass-fed beef that is almost certainly imported, and over the last few years, the company announced several new beef initiatives. It invested in “regenerative ranching” pilot projects that involve helping ranchers improve grazing practices to build soil health and incorporating legume cover crops into growing feed crops.

According to the materials the company provided, its suppliers reported improved grazing practices on 15 million acres in 2023, but it’s unclear what those practices look like. To create its own Angus beef supply, it acquired a stake in a processing plant project in Nebraska and partnered with cattle feeders in Texas. Those systems still involve cattle being sent to large feedlots. One Texas feedlot is in a town where beef CAFO production is so concentrated that communities suffer from regularly breathing in fecal dust.

And the projects are a small share of the meat that regularly fills Walmart’s cases. Walmart’s biggest meat suppliers include Cargill, Smithfield, and Tyson, according to Civil Eats’ in-store survey and Tyson’s public disclosures to its shareholders, which indicate that Walmart accounts for about 18 percent of Tyson’s annual sales. Such large suppliers have a history of environmental pollution. Pollution from Tyson farmers’ corn and soybean fields and poultry and beef CAFOs, for example, has severely impacted Midwest waterways.

What’s more, deforestation is one of the main drivers of greenhouse gas emissions in animal agriculture. According to FAIRR, Tyson has not reported progress on its multiple commitments to end deforestation in its cattle or soybean supply chains, despite their fast-approaching target dates of 2025. Tyson declined to provide comment, but a public relations representative pointed to this report, which shares a 2019 deforestation risk assessment that found most of the company’s beef and soy were at “low deforestation risk” due to U.S. origin.

And Cargill, which provides many of the low-priced, unbranded ground beef and steaks that are ubiquitous in Walmart’s meat cases, is among the largest corporate drivers of deforestation. In September, Global Witness linked the company to the destruction of nearly 50,000 acres of Bolivia’s Chiquitano Forest since 2017.

Glenn Hurowitz, the CEO and founder of the nonprofit Mighty Earth, has tracked Cargill’s impact on the destruction of both the Brazilian Amazon and Cerrado, the world’s most biodiverse savanna, for years. Cargill, he said, stands alone in its destruction of native ecosystems and is holding up the progress that other companies have made to end deforestation.

“For a consumer-facing company like Walmart, what ultimately matters is the identity and practices of their suppliers,” Hurowitz said. “To the extent they’re buying from companies that are driving continued extensive destruction of native ecosystems like Cargill . . . it’s hard to call them regenerative.” Cargill did not respond to requests for comment.

Glenn Hurowitz, the CEO and founder of the nonprofit Mighty Earth, has tracked Cargill’s impact on the destruction of both the Brazilian Amazon and Cerrado, the world’s most biodiverse savanna, for years. Cargill, he said, stands alone in its destruction of native ecosystems and is holding up the progress that other companies have made to end deforestation.

Walmart Moving to Greenwash Its Supply Chains

But with no baseline data or public information on who is participating, it’s impossible to determine what that [term, regenerative agriculture] means. A recent report from the investor activism group Ceres gave Walmart credit for being ahead of other food companies in setting goals but also uncovered a potential limitation with Project Gigaton’s data. “They ask their suppliers to report any and all emissions that they have avoided, whether or not it was linked directly to something they sold to Walmart or if it ended up on Walmart’s shelves,” Ceres’ Nako Kobayashi explained.

At the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), which has received more than $166 million from the Walton Family Foundation over the past 20 years, Elizabeth Sturcken works with private companies on climate commitments. She helped Walmart set up Project Gigaton and acknowledged that companies’ self-reporting of emissions data to Walmart creates challenges around accuracy. But despite any limitations, Sturcken sees Project Gigaton as an example of Walmart’s clear leadership on reducing supply chain emissions.

“In the United States, at least where there is no regulation, this is what creates powerful change,” she said. “A company that purchases a lot of product and spends billions of dollars in its supply chain says to its suppliers, ‘We need you to join us on this journey. Here’s how to do it. Here are the tools.’” Sturcken likens it to rolling out a red carpet for suppliers versus requiring them to make drastic changes to adopt regenerative practices.

Given Walmart’s supersized power, however, Hurowitz’s take is that requiring change is something the company could conceivably do. If Walmart drew a line in the sand in terms of deforestation, for example, Hurowitz said he’s sure that “Cargill would immediately announce a new policy banning deforestation and ecosystem destruction. The real problem is [Cargill] hasn’t faced any retail consequences for its actions.”

There’s no evidence Walmart’s headed in that direction. Since 2010, the company has made at least five different public commitments related to ending deforestation in different parts of its soy and beef supply chains. To date there is no public evidence the company is close to delivering, and the commitments always rely on voluntary reporting by suppliers.