That is a damning conclusion in a report published today (18 July) which exposes major meat and dairy corporations as “majorly overlooked climate culprits”.

The top 35 businesses fall “dangerously short” in emissions reporting and targets, research finds, with many failing to report emissions entirely or excluding supply chain figures which account for up to 80-90% of their emissions.

The report from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) and non-profit GRAIN reveals that the five largest meat and dairy corporations are already responsible for more annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than oil giants ExxonMobil, Shell or BP.

GRAIN researcher Devlin Kuyek said there was “no other choice” than the significantly reduce the meat and dairy production in the countries where the top 35 companies are located.

“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,” he said.

Food for thought

The operations of the top 35 companies are highly concentrated in a small number of countries that have a disproportionate share of global meat and dairy production and consumption.

Among these countries, the US, EU countries, Canada, Brazil, Argentina and China are responsible for more than 60% of the emissions from global meat and dairy production – about twice the rest of the world on a per capita basis.

“There is no such thing as ‘cheap meat’”, said Shefali Sharma, director of the IATP. “For decades, the mass production of meat and dairy has been enabled by farmers getting paid below the cost of production, workers being exploited and taxpayers footing the bill for air, land and water pollution caused by big meat and dairy.

“It’s time we realised 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 through antibiotic overuse. This report shows what a key role they play in creating climate change as well.” 

The meat of it

The livestock industry is responsible for 14.5% of global GHG emissions, and forecasts suggest that global meat consumption will rise by 76% by 2050.

Investors have claimed that the implementation of the Paris Agreement will lead to some governments introducing a “livestock levy” that cuts meat consumption from diets. It is thought that such a move could avoid up to $600bn in climate damages by 2050.

Research from Chalmers University of Technology and Sweden’s Technical Research Institute found that European farmers could reduce emissions by moving away from livestock practices and incorporating new farming technologies. The combined approach could cut emissions by nearly 50%, it is thought.

Chatham House report estimates that a switch in dietary behaviour could create yearly emissions savings of six gigatonnes of CO2e, while research from Oxford University found that surcharges of 40% on beef and 20% on milk would account for the damage their production causes people via climate change.

George Ogleby

Comments (1)

  1. Keiron Shatwell says:

    How does the "marginal" livestock farming industry stack up? By marginal I mean hill sheep farming on land that basically couldn’t be used for crops or anything else but the sheep provide valuable protein and natural fibres/skins. Or goats on scrub land which again provide protein, milk and natural fibres/skins.

    Don’t turn farming per se into the next great environmental satan. We need food but we also need to understand that the juicy steak comes with a real cost not just a financial one

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie