According to a new study, the combined methane emissions of 15 of the world’s largest meat and dairy companies are higher than those of several of the world’s largest countries, including Russia, Canada and Australia.
Analysis by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and Changing Markets Foundation found that corporate emissions – five meat companies and 10 dairy companies – equal more than 80% of the European Union’s total methane footprint and represent 11.1% of the world’s livestock. – related methane emissions.
“It just blew my mind,” said Shefali Sharma, director of IATP’s European office. “We can’t continue to have this handful of companies controlling so many animals.”
Methane, expelled by cows and their manure, is far more potent than carbon dioxide, trapping heat 80 times more effectively and emissions are accelerating rapidly, according to the UN.
The researchers admit in the report that a lack of transparency on the part of companies makes it difficult to accurately measure greenhouse gas emissions. The results were estimated based on publicly available data on regional meat and milk production and animal husbandry practices.
The report comes as the Cop27 climate conference unfolds in Egypt, where politicians and business leaders are discussing the role of agriculture and are accused of failing to consider meaningful solutions.
If the 15 companies were treated as a country, the report notes, it would be the 10th-largest greenhouse gas-emitting jurisdiction in the world. Their combined emissions exceed those of oil companies like ExxonMobil, BP and Shell, the researchers found.
The researchers singled out individual livestock companies such as JBS, the world’s largest meat company, and French dairy giant Danone.
JBS’s methane emissions “far exceed all other companies”, according to the report, exceeding the combined livestock emissions of France, Germany, Canada and New Zealand.
The world’s second-largest meat company, Tyson, produces about as much methane for livestock as Russia, researchers said, and Dairy Farmers of America produces as much as the UK.
JBS did not respond to requests for comment.
Tyson and Dairy Farmers of America declined interview requests. A spokesperson for Dairy Farmers of America said in an email that the company’s report’s comparison with UK emissions “is not an apples-to-apples comparison and is clearly an attempt to make sensational headlines”. Dairy Farmers of America is “committed to being part of climate solutions,” the organization added.
The report recommended reforms to help reduce emissions and climate degradation, including governments requiring companies to report greenhouse gas emissions and promoting a “just transition” away from factory farming by reducing the number of animals per farm. Companies should also set emission reduction targets and be more transparent about methane production, the report concludes.
The United States has resisted regulating agricultural methane emissions, opting instead to offer voluntary incentives to farmers and businesses to reduce greenhouse gases. But change is unlikely unless the Environmental Protection Agency is allowed to regulate those emissions, said Cathy Day, climate policy coordinator with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
“There’s a narrative for just focusing on incentives, for focusing on environmental problems by paying people to solve them rather than requiring people to solve them,” she said. “My opinion is that we won’t get there without regulatory solutions.”
The 15 companies studied are based in 10 countries, five of which have increased livestock methane emissions over the past decade, according to the report. China’s emissions increased by 17%, much more than other countries.
While it’s helpful for people to eat less meat and dairy, Sharma said, the real solution to reducing methane emissions was to end industrial agriculture.
“We’re not saying people should go vegan or vegetarian,” Sharma said. “We’re just saying we have to do better.”
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