On Food and Education: Jeremy Coller

For our five-question series on food and education at The Common Table, we ask experts about their strategies and practices for a healthier relationship with food. Here: Jeremy Coller, the founder of the FAIRR Initiative explains how teaching investors about the global food industry has the potential to effect significant change.

The Common Table: How would you explain your perception of food as an educational discipline or tool to someone who might think that means just cookery lessons?

Jeremy Coller: I think there is actually room for cookery lessons! When I became a vegetarian at 12 I was given one dietary rule to live by, which was “eat a rainbow” – always try and have a meal with lots of colour in it. We need more people to start doing that, understanding more about health and nutrition.

More broadly, we all need to be much more curious about the food we eat. We think about taste and calorie counts and the price we pay at the shop, but most of us know next to nothing about where our food comes from, how it’s produced and the real cost to ourselves, to our economy, to our planet.

We can’t fix climate change without fixing this $10 trillion, hugely subsidised global industry and we can’t do that without people knowing a lot more about it. 

Intensive animal agriculture, factory farming, alone contributes around 15 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide – more than every car, plane, train and ship put together. It’s the number one cause of deforestation, the biggest user of fresh water and the largest consumer of antibiotics. We can’t fix climate change without fixing this $10 trillion, hugely subsidised global industry and we can’t do that without people knowing a lot more about it. 

The Common Table: Who are you trying to reach and teach and why?

Jeremy Coller: There’s no shortage of campaigners working to raise awareness among consumers, but my focus has always been on the people I know best: investors, the owners of all these businesses. They play a vital role in the global food system and are better placed than anyone to deliver meaningful and lasting change.

There’s no shortage of campaigners working to raise awareness among consumers, but my focus has always been on the people I know best: investors.

But when I talked to people in the sector I found that, in the same way that many people doing their weekly shop don’t know the story behind what’s going into their basket, investors with hundreds of millions of dollars tied up in companies that support intensive animal agriculture as part of the global protein supply chain had no understanding of the material financial risks that come with exposure to the industry.

New Zealand is introducing taxes on agricultural emissions, California is banning routine use of antibiotics in livestock, consumer habits are shifting towards more plant-based diets and so on. Successful investing is all about striking the right balance of risk and reward, so I figured that if I could better educate investors about the risks they were facing, they would demand the kind of change we need to see.

The Common Table: What are you doing/have you done to change understanding related to food?

Jeremy Coller: In 2015 I founded FAIRR as an investor network – Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return. Everyone knows that over the past 200 years human lives have got immeasurably better, while the lives of other animals have got immeasurably worse – but at FAIRR we’re about materiality, not morality. We make the business case for change, not the emotional one, bridging the huge knowledge gaps among investors by giving them solid, market-ready data on the risks and opportunities present in the food sector.

At FAIRR we’re about materiality, not morality. We make the business case for change, not the emotional one.

Today it’s the fastest-growing investor network in the world, with a membership representing more than $70 trillion of assets. And while change isn’t happening as fast as I’d like – or as fast as the planet needs – it’s clear that FAIRR is helping to turn the ship around. For example, every year we produce an index of the world’s biggest protein producers, shining a light on how they work, what risks they’re exposed to and so on. The latest edition saw the lowest-ever number of companies rated as “high risk”; meanwhile the number of firms achieving a coveted “best practice” label on their use of antibiotics reached a new high, and even among the worst-performing companies we saw improvements in areas such as working practices. It’s still relatively early days but it shows change is possible, that risky behaviour is not inevitable and that investors are willing and able to force the improvements we need.

The Common Table: Where would you like to take your work in this field; what are your goals?

Jeremy Coller: I want us to wake up to the need for change before it’s too late. I want investors to look at intensive animal agriculture like they increasingly look at coal, as a stranded asset. The global food sector right now is inefficient and outdated, and megatrends like technology and climate change mean it can, and must, transform.

I want investors to look at intensive animal agriculture like they increasingly look at coal, as a stranded asset.

Over the past 50 years, we’ve seen revolutions in pretty much every other industry, every other aspect of our lives. The way we work has changed, the way we communicate has changed, the way we travel has changed. Everything has become more efficient, more hi-tech. So why, in 2024, are we raising 80 billion animals each year to feed eight billion humans? How are we going to keep doing that when there are nine, 10, 11 billion of us? Why are we feeding six calories to an animal to produce one calorie of meat – with all the water use, waste management issues, land clearance and antibiotic resistance issues that come with it – when we have the technology to produce actual meat in a lab? Why are we breeding and feeding and caring for hundreds of millions of dairy cows when we know how to manufacture genetically identical milk cheaply and at scale in a brewery?

Protein innovation alone offers a once-in-a-lifetime chance to address the urgent climate, health and nature risks we face, but it won’t happen as long as consumers, investors and policymakers remain in the dark about the true nature of the global food industry.

Everything we need to deliver change is right there in front of us, we just need consumers, producers and governments to reach out and seize the opportunity, and I’d love to see FAIRR’s research and data help to make that happen.

The Common Table: What is the big-picture perspective in terms of the future of food education and where is it coming from?

Jeremy Coller: I don’t think we can just rely on one entity. We all need to contribute – business, government, the wider education sector and organisations like FAIRR. The dangers of business as usual are enormous, but so are the rewards of change. Protein innovation alone offers a once-in-a-lifetime chance to address the urgent climate, health and nature risks we face, but it won’t happen as long as consumers, investors and policymakers remain in the dark about the true nature of the global food industry. There’s a long, long way to go but I’m optimistic that we’ll be on the right side of history – there’s a real and growing appetite for change, and the more people see of the alternatives the more momentum builds. The opportunity is right there, it’s in our hands.

Jeremy Coller is Chief Investment Officer and Managing Partner of Coller Capital, a leading
secondary private equity business, which he founded in 1990. In 2015, Jeremy founded the FAIRR (Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return) Initiative, which is the fastest growing investor network, representing $70 trillion of members’ Assets under Management, focused on ESG risks and opportunities in the global food sector.
Through the Coller Foundation, Jeremy has launched the Coller Animal Law Forum (CALF) and several other initiatives focused on accelerating the transition away from intensive
agriculture. Jeremy is also President of the Alternative Proteins Association and a member of the Advisory Council of The Elders, the international peace and human rights NGO founded by Nelson Mandela.

Title photo © Matt Palmer

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