Each year, the Bel Group collects some 1.7 billion liters of milk globally from 3,200 dairy producers, who farm close to its production sites. As a major player in dairy products, and aware of its environmental responsibility and the environmental impact of dairy farming, the Group has committed to making sustainable dairy production a strategic focus of its corporate social responsibility policy.
“To take concrete and measurable actions, in 2012 Bel and WWF France signed a partnership agreement, which today we are renewing with the shared goal of limiting environmental impacts related to dairy production,” said Pascal Canfin, Managing Director of WWF France. “To that end, WWF France has helped Bel identify the priority environmental challenges to reduce the environmental footprint of its products. This effort is part of the Market Transformation Intiatives policy.”
Dairy cow feed, a key step on the road to a more sustainable sector
A phase one study showed that dairy cow feed was a key step on the road to a more sustainable dairy sector. Soy and Palm Kernel Expeller (PKE) are components of dairy cow feed, and their production has particularly severe environmental impacts.
After joining the RTRS (Round Table on Responsible Soy) in 2014, the Bel Group took the next step in 2015 and committed to buying RTRS certificates to offset 100%, i.e. 44,500 metric tons, of the soy used to feed the dairy cows of Bel’s milk suppliers in Europe, including dairy farmers in France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, and Poland. To make its commitment more meaningful, the Bel Group has since 2014 supported a field project to help soy farmers in Brazil’s Mato Grosso state obtain RTRS certification through the adoption of more sustainable practices.
To date, 21,342 hectares of Brazilian soy fields have been RTRS-certified, offsetting the Bel Group’s soy needs. In addition, 15,125 hectares of land have been set aside for preservation. Today, nine farmers are participating in the project, and 60,000 hectares of soy have been added to the program for 2016.
Also hand-in-and with WWF France, Bel committed to undertaking an identical initiative involving Palm Kernel Expeller (PKE) in 2015. This palm oil by-product is used as a supplement in livestock feed. Palm Kernel Expeller (PKE) is added to dairy cow feed in some countries where Bel procures the milk used by its local production sites to make cheese. As demand has risen, palm oil production has doubled over the last decade, to the detriment of tropical forests. In 2016, Bel teamed up with the WWF for a new program in Borneo, Malaysia, where the Group now supports the efforts of small, local producers to obtain Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certification. It also helps recover palm oil residues, such as palm kernel expeller (PKE), and is encouraging the development of a more transparent PKE industry.
Since 2016, RTRS or RSPO certificates have covered 100% of the soy and PKE used globally to produce the milk needed to make Bel cheeses.
Renewing the partnership to further develop sustainable dairy production
Following a successful three-year partnership, the Bel Group and WWF France have committed to working together for another three years, to further the development of sustainable dairy production.
“New programs are being studied in Europe to encourage local solutions in three areas, including replacing the soy imports used in dairy cow feed with local soy when possible, supporting good farming practices in terms of environmental footprint reduction, and lengthening the grazing periods of dairy cows in regions with a grazing tradition,” says Magali Sartre, Bel’s Global Corporate Social Responsibility and Corporate Relations Director. “Based on programs to encourage grazing in the Netherlands, we expect to see pilot projects with volunteer farmers in the Group’s largest dairy basins.”
“Our partnership with the WWF and its first concrete results demonstrate the relevance of our shared commitment,” said Antoine Fiévet, Chairman and CEO of the Bel Group. “We have worked together during the past three years to enhance and support responsible soy and PKE production. We have shown that we can take action in our business to improve farming practices. With this new partnership, we will further strengthen our commitment to encouraging the development of a sustainable dairy industry, and I am convinced that this example will lead many other players to take the same path.”