As one of the largest meat companies in Europe, Vion plays a crucial role in the creation of a false image of the meat industry and causing doubt about the climate effects of animal farming. With almost 5 billion euros annual revenue, the multinational has plenty of resources to spend on greenwashing their own company and the industry at large. The tactics are similar to those used by tobacco and fossil fuel industries.
DeSmog, an organisation that works to expose corporate misinformation on climate change, conducted a five-month investigation into the meat industry’s PR and lobbying, Vion being one of the ten meat giants they focused on. In this blog, we summarise some highlights from DeSmog report and added some information gathered by ourselves.
Key messages promoted by Vion
- Downplaying the impact of livestock farming on the climate: popular amongst meat producers is to play down their impact by narrowing the scope of the activities they count towards their emissions. Vion only reports CO2 emissions that fall directly under its own control: 0,18 megaton CO2e per year. If we however include all emissions, their annual emissions are between 11.6 (Milieudefensie) and 15.2 megaton (GRAIN and IATP). More here. Again and again Vion argues that "Dutch meat is environmentally friendly’" and even claims that pig meat produces less CO2 than tofu.
- Casting doubt on the efficacy of alternatives to meat to combat climate change: although Vion now produces plant based alternatives with a significant share in the Dutch market (read more here), it also says that "eating less meat will not necessarily contribute to more sustainability, because essential nutrients can then only be consumed in sufficient amounts by eating much more plants/vegetables", quoting a misleading study.
- Promoting the health benefits of meat while overlooking the industry’s environmental footprint: In a video released in 2020, Vion’s CEO Ronald Lotgerink stated that “in 2050, we have to feed 10 billion mouths. All those people have the right to safe, quality food.” In its 2020 Corporate Social Responsibility report Vion says:
Products of animal origin provide high-quality and well-balanced protein for humans. Plant-based alternatives can substitute meat, but it is important that they are part of a balanced diet.
Such statements imply that only animal based foods can be part of a balanced diet, ignoring nutrition associations who approve of meat-free diets.
- Exaggerating the potential of agricultural innovations to reduce the livestock industry’s ecological impact: the meat industry has also been eager to paint a futuristic, technologically advanced picture to justify its continued growth. Vion made some investments in packaging and processing. Also, Vion is active in several industry coalitions that lobby for technological fixes in animal farming as a solution to nitrogen and other environmental problems.
All Vion's statements can be debunked. Vion refers to misleading studies or creates their own facts such as "pork is better than tofu". The website and reports of Vion is full of their greenwashing lies. In their PR, the Groene Weg gets a lot of attention and one would think that this subsidiary is a major part of Vion whereas less than 1 percent of all animals killed by Vion are kept under so called "organic" conditions. Vion's plant-based products, sold by Albert Heijn and Plus supermarkets under their own brand, are used conveniently in marketing but do not replace the meat production at all.
Influencing through lobby and coalitions
Large corporates like Vion are protected by the state, and are able to influence policies and laws in visible and less visible ways.
Vion sits at the table with the Dutch government and regularly consults with the Minister of Agriculture. In 2018 Vion was invited to a governmental working group, to provide recommendations on sustainable agriculture and methane reductions to the government. Vion often lobbies in partnerships such as with the LTO and other multinationals like Friesland Campina, Cosun and Agrifirm. Local and national authorities have put in a lot of efforts to prevent closure of the company during COVID outbreaks; the Minister of Agriculture lobbied for reopening of Chinese market for pig meat. Vion has an agreement with the municipality of Boxtel that includes, amongst others, the sponsoring of social events with meat.
Vion is a member of lobby groups such as the “Coalitie Vitalisering Varkenshouderij”, the Centrale Organisatie voor de Vleessector, the European Meat Network, the European Livestock and Meat Trades Union and the European Roundtable for Beef Sustainability. They are also member of the SAI network for sustainable agriculture. They collaborate with several universities and Vion's staff even give lectures at Wageningen University on the nutritional value of meat....
The supervisory board includes members who are affiliated with organisations such as the Rainforest Alliance (Ton van der Laan, who stepped down this year) and AgriProFocus (Theo Koekkoek), which all contributes to Vion's green image. Also well represented in the executive and supervisory board are corporate allies such as Ahold, Centrale Organisatie voor de Vleessector (COV), Vlees.nl, the German Frozen Food Association, ZLTO, Agri NL, and others.
Especially at local level, Vion sponsors sports clubs and other organisations. The sponsoring of cyclist Tom Dumoulin stopped last year after we published about this ridiculous collaboration.
Vion also upholds relationships with selected animal welfare organisations, such as Eyes on Animals, the Animal Protection (dierenbescherming) and the Animal Save Movement. Although these organisations are critical of meat consumption, they refrain from directly criticising Vion, and Vion also uses these organisations for their own PR.
Finally, mainstream media rarely reports on the link between the consumption of animal-based foods and climate-change and when they do report on the topic, it put a much higher emphasis on the impact of individual consumer choices than the responsibility of large-scale meat corporations.
All these narratives and collaborations contribute to upholding Vion's image as an animal- and environmentally friendly company which can provide a solution to global hunger and the climate crisis. But let's be clear: Vion is exemplary of a capitalist, exploitative, destructive multinational that should shut down completely and immediately.