19.07.2018 |

Big meat and dairy companies are heating up the planet, report

The meat and dairy industry is heating up the planet (Photo: CC0)

The world’s largest meat and dairy companies could surpass the fossil fuel industry and become the biggest climate polluters within the next few decades, new research shows. The report, published by the non-profit organisations Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) and GRAIN, examines the 35 leading companies and found that most are not reporting their greenhouse gas emissions data and few have set targets that could reduce their overall climate footprint. Instead they are pursuing growth strategies that would actually increase their emissions, undermining international efforts to tackle climate change. The research shows that the five largest meat and dairy corporations combined (JBS, Tyson, Cargill, Dairy Farmers of America and Fonterra) are already responsible for annual greenhouse gas emissions of an estimated 578.3 Mt – more than major oil companies such as ExxonMobil (577 Mt), Shell (508 Mt) or BP (448 Mt). The combined emissions of the top 20 meat and dairy companies (933 Mt) even surpass the emissions from entire nations, such as Germany (902 Mt), Canada (722 Mt), Australia (533 Mt) or the UK (507 Mt).

According to GRAIN and IATP, most of the top 35 meat and dairy companies either fail to report emissions entirely, or exclude their supply chain emissions, which account for 80-90% of total emissions. Only four companies – NH Foods (Japan), Nestlé (Switzerland), FrieslandCampina (the Netherlands) and Danone (France) – provide complete, credible emissions estimates. The authors of the study complain that less than half of the top 35 meat and dairy giants have announced any type of emissions reduction targets. Out of these, only six include supply chain emissions. And even despite public commitments, most companies are driving overconsumption by ramping up production and exports. Tyson, for example, expects annual growth of 3–4% from beef and poultry sales, while Marfrig targeted 7.5–9.5% annual growth for 2015-2018. “There’s no other choice. Meat and dairy production in the countries where the top 35 companies dominate must be significantly reduced,” said Devlin Kuyek of GRAIN. “These corporations are pushing for trade agreements that will increase exports and emissions, and they are undermining real climate solutions like agroecology that benefit farmers, workers and consumers.”

If the growth of the global meat and dairy industry continues as projected, the livestock sector as a whole could consume 80% of the planet’s annual greenhouse gas budget by 2050. GRAIN and IATP decry that meat and dairy giants receive indirect subsidies because the public is paying the bill for the air, water and land pollution they cause, as well as the public health impacts from antibiotics overuse and biodiversity loss. “There is no such thing as ‘cheap meat,” said Shefali Sharma of IATP. “It’s time we realized over-consumption is directly linked to the subsidies we provide the industry to continue deforesting, depleting our natural resources and creating a major public health hazard. This report shows what a key role they play in creating climate change as well.” The organisations recommend that taxpayer funds should instead be channelled toward creating an agroecological transition of our food system in which farmers can supply everyone with moderate amounts of high-quality meat and dairy in a way that respects people, animals and the planet. “To do so, we must break the power of the big meat and dairy conglomerates and hold them to account for their supersized climate footprint,” the report concludes. (ab)

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