10.11.2017 |

Industrial meat and dairy is creating a climate crisis, report

Cattle pens (Photo:,

The world’s three largest dairy and meat companies are emitting more combined greenhouse gases than all of France and nearly as much as some of the biggest oil companies. According to research released by the non-governmental organisations GRAIN and Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) as well as the German Heinrich Böll Foundation, business as usual growth of meat and dairy production would make meeting the Paris climate goals impossible and climate catastrophe inevitable. The researchers estimated corporate emissions from livestock, using a comprehensive methodology created by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). They found that the five biggest meat companies – JBS from Brazil, the U.S. corporations Cargill, Tyson and Dairy Farmers of America, and Fonterra Group from New Zealand – together emitted 578 million tonnes CO2 equivalent (MtCO2e) in 2016. This is more than the total emissions of the United Kingdom (507 MtCO2e in 2015) or France (464 MtCO2e) and more than the climate footprint of oil companies such as Exxon or Shell, which emitted 577 MtCO2e and 508 MtCO2e in 2015 respectively. With 932 MtCO2e in 2016, the top 20 meat and dairy companies together even emitted more greenhouse gases than Germany. If these 20 companies were a country, they would be the world’s 7th largest greenhouse gas emitter.

The organisations stress that they are not blaming free range beef ranchers, or sustainable poultry farmers, or small and mid-size family dairy farmers and that they are not talking about pastoralists and livestock holders across the world, who feed themselves and the communities surrounding them. “It’s the corporations who own, run and profit from factory farms and confined animal feed operations that are the culprits,” they write. “These are landlords of a system so powerful that it is, in large part, determining land-use patterns worldwide, driving protein production and consumption globally and changing cultural dietary norms, all in the name of expanding markets and profits.” The authors warn that by 2060, if growth in meat and dairy production continues as projected by the FAO, emissions from this sector will take up the entire budget of global emissions, making it impossible for global temperatures to stay below the 1.5 degree increase targeted under the Paris Agreement.

The publishers highlight that is time to stop the dairy and meat giants from destroying the climate and shift our support to making our small farmers, herders and ranchers resilient. “If we are serious about feeding the planet while fighting climate change, the world needs to urgently invest in a transition to food systems that hinge on small-scale producers, agroecology and local markets. These systems provide for moderate levels of meat and dairy, but they do so in a way that regenerates soils, provides livelihoods to rural and urban communities and makes crops and animals resilient to the vagaries of an unpredictable climate.” The authors also outline how to achieve this. The first measure is to redirect public money from factory farming and agribusiness towards small-scale agroecological family farms. Governments should also use their buying power to support small producers, helping them to build jobs and markets for local products. As numerous cities make energy choices to tackle climate change, so too should municipalities invest in farm-to-hospital and farm-to-school programs that deliver healthier food and strengthen rural communities while emitting fewer greenhouse gases. (ab)

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