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A water stewardship proposal that would add a layer of environmental oversight to Tyson Foods production facilities, will be considered next month by Tyson shareholders.

The American Baptist Home Mission Society filed a recent proxy supplement with the Securities and Exchange Commission to be considered by investors who will vote Feb. 8 at the company's annual shareholder meeting in Springdale.

In a Dec. 11 filing, Tyson's board of directors said the water stewardship proposal is not in the best interest of the company or its shareholders.

"The Board believes the Company's present policies, procedures and plans appropriately and adequately address the concerns raised in the proposal and the adoption of another policy is unnecessary and duplicative," the board's statement reads.

The board also recommended shareholders reject a proposal that Tyson disclose a report showing expenditures, procedures and other activities related to lobbying communications.

Tyson Foods, the nation's largest meat company, took steps last year to project a more consumer-friendly image, appointing a chief sustainability officer, submitting to third-party animal-welfare audits and committing to a collaboration with the World Resources Institute to limit its greenhouse-gas emissions.

For over a decade, Tyson has reported its water consumption as part of its sustainability report and last year reported it to a third-party agency. Still, the company's history of fines for water contamination suggest that Tyson's efforts haven't been enough, said Mary Beth Gallagher, executive director of the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investment, which represents the 13 co-filers that signed on with the American Baptist Home Mission Society proposal.

"We were excited when Tom Hayes became CEO and Justin Whitmore was appointed [Tyson's chief sustainability officer]," Gallagher said, because of the company's commitment to a new sustainable approach last year.

"But really looking through the actions that have been taken, there isn't much to show," she said.

Meat production, in general, has been under fire for years as one of the leading causes of pollution on the planet, according to various environmental groups.

Mighty Earth, a nonprofit environmental group, claimed Tyson Foods in 2017 was responsible for the largest dead zone recorded in the Gulf of Mexico because of growing meat production that relies on corn and soy supplies for feed.

Two years earlier, meat production was blamed for rising nitrate levels, a known carcinogen, in more than 1,800 water systems serving 7 million Americans, according to the Environmental Working Group.

Before that, Oklahoma sued Tyson Foods and other Arkansas businesses in 2005 for pollution of the Illinois River Watershed. Phosphorus levels in the water have fallen since then because of advances in filtration technology, volunteer cleanup crews and a nonprofit group that is moving poultry litter outside the state, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette recently reported.

The aim of the proxy filing is to reduce risks of water contamination at Tyson-owned facilities, facilities under contract to Tyson and Tyson's feed suppliers.

A similar proposal was presented last year. The resolution gained more than 14 percent of the vote, up from 11.8 percent the year before, according to the American Baptist Home Mission Society.

Because of the company's dual-class stock structure, which allows the Tyson family's exclusive Class B shares to have 10 times the voting strength of publicly held Class A shares, Gallagher admitted that it's likely the vote won't swing in favor of the water proposal.

The company's view is that it is already doing its part. Striking a balance between maintaining food quality and preserving natural resources is part of Tyson's most recent sustainability report:

"Our goal is to reduce the amount of water used to produce each pound of product by 12 percent, by the end of 2020, using Fiscal 2015 as the baseline year. ... The majority of water we use in our direct operations is treated and returned to the environment."

Business on 01/11/2018

Print Headline: Tyson investors to review water plan

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