Babybel Original Cheese

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Lindsay Kenefick
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Babybel cheese is an individually wrapped, snack sized cheese wheel, well known for the red wax that it comes packaged in. These little cheeses come in a variety of flavors and are good for a quick snack or to throw in a lunch on the go, but they don’t earn such a high ranking in terms of sustainability. They also recently launched a plant based twist on the classic snack. Babybel is created by Bel Brand USA, who also create a handful of other cheese brands. The Babybel website talks a lot about sustainability but with little support to back up their claims. They include a lot of talk about the future plans they have to create a more sustainable product, but concrete evidence about their current actions to achieve those goals is lacking. Although, they just recently announced ambitious plans to drastically reduce their footprint, and it is ultimately too soon to track their progress in meeting these goals. 


What it's made of:


Babybel cheese wheels are made of just 4 ingredients:  milk, vegetarian rennet, lactic ferments and salt. There are huge amounts of methane emissions associated with dairy production from factory farming cows. Babybel sources milk from farms that adhere to The National Dairy Farmers Assuring Responsible Management program (FARM), which requires farms to meet standards that help improve animal welfare. The company’s website also states that their dairy is locally sourced; “that the distance from farms to our plants in Brookings, SD or Leitchfield, KY is an average of 350 miles or less.” While it is good that the milk is locally sourced, the environmental issues rooted in dairy farming are still not being avoided, and the website does not indicate any more information about the sources of their other ingredients, so there is definitely room for improvement in terms of transparency there. However, the area with the most room for improvement in terms of reducing their carbon footprint is really in their packaging. Each cheese wheel is individually packaged, coated in wax, made of a blend of paraffin and microcrystalline waxes and coloring, then wrapped in cellophane, and packaged in groups in plastic netting. The website slightly acknowledges these issues, and states that they are working on creating compostable or recyclable packaging, and that they will also create an upcycling program “soon.” No further information is provided about any concrete progress the company is making towards these claims. Bel Brands USA has partnered with How2Recycle® but this does not make up for the fact that their packaging is non recyclable and part of the problem! Furthermore, when you dig deeper into how their trademarked red wax is created, it becomes apparent that it is terrible for the environment! Paraffin wax is obtained from petroleum, and petroleum drilling is far from sustainable. As delicious and convenient as Babybel cheese may be, it would be much better in terms of sustainability if their packaging changed! 


How it's made:


Babybel cheese wheel factories produce upwards of 24 million pounds of cheese annually. They have two US based factories: in Leitchfield, Kentucky, and Brookings, South Dakota. The Babybel website offers some information about the farming practices of their partners where their milk is sourced, but beyond that finding any information about the production process, and the emissions associated with it, is difficult. While Babybel uses locally sourced feed to nourish the cows on local farms, dairy farming in general is degrading to the environment in many ways.  Dairy cows and their manure produce methane emissions which exacerbate climate change. In 2017, United States dairy cattle were responsible for 83.5 Mt of CO2e, or 1.3% of the US total (EPA, 2017) Poor handling of manure and fertilizers can also degrade local water resources, and raising cattle is water intensive as well. 

 In regards to how Babybel cheese is manufactured, public information is nonexistent.   However I was able to find a video of the inside of the factory filled with huge machinery, showing the production assembly line. While specific information pertaining to the energy intensity, or any type of emissions associated with the production process are not available, this video leads me to believe that the process is energy intensive due to all the large machinery, and requires a lot of water for hardening the wax coating on the outside of the cheese. 

The production of the wax itself is a whole other problem. Paraffin wax is derived from petroleum, and is a byproduct of the oil purification process. Collecting crude oil in and of itself is devastating to natural habitats and causes pollution of other natural resources, and is not sustainable as crude oil is a limited natural resource.  Paraffin wax is one of the chemical compounds that is naturally found in crude oil and the oil isn’t usable with the wax in it. To remove it, crude oil has to undergo dewaxing. Refining the oil requires an energy intensive process that also contributes to air and water pollution. Then, once the wax has been removed from the crude oil, the wax undergoes further processing to be used for different products. Not only is the production process of wax environmentally degrading, but the final product is also not biodegradable and will sit in landfills for many years. 

Who makes it:


It seems that Bel Brand USA has the will to help achieve carbon emission reduction goals. In 2017, the Bel Group joined the Science Based Target initiative (SBTi) and they adopted the U.S. Dairy Stewardship Commitment in 2019. They ‚Äč‚Äčalso recently announced an ambitious commitment (for a mainly dairy company), involving a “net reduction of one-quarter of greenhouse gas emissions throughout Bel’s entire value chain by 2035, and the integration of carbon tracking” as a tool for steering their decision making. They claim Bel Brand USA is going to achieve carbon neutrality in US plants by 2025, they are joining regenerative agriculture pilot programs, maintaining a diverse product portfolio, as well as working with partners committed to accelerating action. This statement of action and goals came out just this week- so it is difficult to assess whether or not the company will meet these goals, and if they are actually taking the necessary steps to reduce their carbon footprint. They do mention that the work carried out by Bel Group on its impact should “become transparent to bring together as many players in the sector as possible. Eventually, sharing this information publicly across the sector could contribute to better consumer information”- but this has not happened yet.