Where’s the beef? Costco’s meat supply chain and environmental justice in California
Although the environmental and social burdens associated with the production of beef are well-understood, due to supply chain complexities, we rarely know precisely where these impacts occur or who is affected. This limitation is a barrier to more sustainable production and consumption of animal products. In this study, we combine life cycle thinking with an environmental justice approach to map Costco’s beef supply chain in California and to explore the environmental burden of air pollution (PM2.5) due to beef production in the San Joaquin Valley, a region that has some of the worst air quality in the United States. To map the supply chain of one of Costco’s primary suppliers, Harris Ranch, and the feedlots they operate, the study uses a methodological framework known as Tracking Corporations Across Space and Time (TRACAST). Our modeling revealed that feedlots produce ∼95% of total PM2.5 emissions across the beef supply chain, and they alone account for approximately 1/3 of total anthropogenic PM2.5 emissions in the Valley. PM2.5 concentrations are markedly higher around these facilities. The spatial analysis revealed that communities living near feedlots are often poor, predominantly Latinx and have increased PM2.5 related disease burdens, including asthma, heart disease and low weight birth. Based on company documents and news reports, neither Costco nor Harris Ranch are addressing this environmental injustice. Documenting the geographically specific impacts of livestock production opens up opportunities for corporations to address environmental injustices in their supply chains through more sustainable sourcing and production practices, and for consumers to rethink their consumption of meat.