The the world’s largest meat and dairy companies are responsible for more than 10% of all global methane emissions from livestock, with some singular companies emitting as much or more methane than many individual countries, including Russia, the Germany, and Australia, a new report find. The report, released this week by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and the Changing Markets Foundation, does a lot of math on food giants like JBS, Tyson, Nestlé, and Danone, finding that just 15 meat and dairy companies are responsible for 3.4% of global methane emissions from human activity.
Overall, according to the report, these companies emit 734 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent each year, more than Germany’s annual emissions, while their methane footprint from agriculture accounts for around 80% of the total. European Union’s total methane footprint.
“Farming emissions are quite concentrated in a handful of huge meat and dairy companies that are responsible for much of this problem through their globalized supply chains,” said Nusa Urbancic, director of campaigns for the Changing Markets Foundation, to Earther in an email. “This study shows that methane emissions from industrialized animal agriculture should be high on governments’ priority list.”
Methane stays in the atmosphere much shorter than carbon dioxide, but itIt’s more intense while it’s up there, making it an increasingly worrying factor in runaway global warming. Cows are particularly problematic source of methane emissions due to the enteric fermentation process – their digestive mechanics which lead to burps that are heavily laden with greenhouse gases. Thanks in part to the livestock boom of recent decades, cattle farming today is responsible for 9% of total global methane emissions. In recent years, world leaders have more and more stressed the need to control methane emissions, and quickly, in order to reduce global warming.
To write the report, the researchers used milk consumption data from 10 of the largest dairy companies in the world and the number of slaughters – the number of animals killed per year – of some of the largest meat distributors in the world. The authors then used regional estimates of meat production, regional average greenhouse gas emissions intensity data and milk production estimates United Nations Agricultural Assessment Model to calculate each company’s methane emissions.
Many of these numbers are hard to come by, and much of the research has relied on self-reported data. companies themselves. During the research phase of the report, the authors asked the 15 companies for regional breakdowns of milk or slaughter data; only four companies responded.
“It’s very difficult to get data from these companies,” Urbancic said. “There is very little in the public domain, and especially for meat companies we had to go through all their years, sustainability and investment reports to obtain information about their operations.
Three of the five meat companies, including JBS and Tyson, have not released their slaughter data, so to estimate the number of animals they process each year, the report uses slaughter processing rates, or the number of animals facilities can knock down, to estimate the number of animals they kill per year.
There’s a lot of ambiguity here, given the paucity of publicly available data, that in itself is a red flag that greater transparency is needed to better understand the damage these companies are actually inflicting on the planet. Jhe initial figures provided by the report are still staggering. According to the report’s methodology, JBS, the world’s largest meat producer, has a larger methane footprint than those from Italy, Spain and the UK combined; Tyson Foods, meanwhile, has a methane footprint greater than Russia. (We contacted several of the companies named in the report and will update this article if they answer.)
There are many industries that need more regulations to limit their methane emissions (looking at you, oil and gas companies). But as this report points out, industrial agriculture has an important role to play in our current methane problem. The industry is also build defenses to its methane emissions that policy makers should be aware of when crafting responses.
“Given that we are in a climate emergency, which is already affecting farmers around the world, governments must act urgently and put in place a comprehensive set of regulations, which should range from climate goals for the agricultural sector to the reform of existing harmful agricultural subsidies”. says Urbancic. “However, it will be essential that the burden of reducing emissions rests with the companies that shape and lead the supply chain. Farmers inside and outside of these corporate supply chains must be supported to play a critical role in a sequenced, deliberate and just transition from mass industrial animal production to healthy agro-ecological systems for the planet and people.
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