How meat, milk and dairy products affect the warming of our planet

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) and GRAIN, in their latest report entitled “Emissions Impossible: How Big Meat and Dairy Are Heating Up the Planet”, present the extent to which the meat and dairy industry is contributing to global warming.

The report covered the 35 largest companies in the meat and dairy industry

More than ten years ago, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) published the first comprehensive report on anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, in which livestock farming ranked very high, even ahead of emissions from the transport sector as a whole.

Further studies supported this initial assessment of emissions and further confirmed the role of global livestock farming in climate change. Despite the findings, the largest companies in the meat and dairy industry continue to strive for the highest possible growth rate in the consumption of their products. This is certainly in stark contrast to the Paris Agreement reached in 2015 by the governments of the countries with the aim of collectively preventing a 2 ° C increase in world temperature compared to pre-industrial levels.

On the contrary, as companies in the energy sector, large meat and dairy companies are successfully evading public scrutiny of their contribution to climate change. The lack of information on their greenhouse gas emissions and poor general awareness of the environmental impacts of livestock farming make an important contribution to this.

If we are to achieve the Paris Agreement target, we need to reduce our total global greenhouse gas emissions from 51 gigs to 13 gigs by 2050. If the production of meat and dairy products increases at the same rate as today, livestock production in 2050 will be able to account for as much as 80% of emissions, which means that the Paris Agreement targets will be unattainable.

Most of the meat and dairy conglomerates covered by the report do not have reports of greenhouse gas emissions or the emissions shown are lower than the actual ones. Only 4 out of 35 companies provide complete and credible estimates of their emissions. The world’s largest meat industry conglomerate, JBS, reported 31 times lower greenhouse gas emissions than actually calculated.

The report shows that globally the 5 largest meat and dairy companies (JBS, Tyson, Cargill, DFA and Fonterra) contribute about the same share of greenhouse gas emissions as the leading fossil fuel company, Exxon Mobil, and a significantly higher share than Shell or BP. In addition, the top 20 meat and dairy companies together produce more greenhouse gases than Germany, Canada, Australia, the UK or France.

Geographically, most emissions from the meat and dairy industry come from a small number of countries or regions. The main polluters are countries and regions that mainly export meat, milk and dairy products. These include the United States and Canada, the European Union, Brazil and Argentina, and Australia and New Zealand. What these countries or regions have in common is that they have a surplus of production and consumption of meat, milk and dairy products per capita. These countries account for as much as 43% of total global livestock emissions, although only 15% of the world’s population lives in them.

In order to avoid climate catastrophe and to meet the objectives set out in the Paris Agreement, we need to change today’s unsustainable farming practices to meet the needs of farmers, consumers and the world. There is a need to significantly reduce the production of meat, milk and dairy products in countries where both overproduction and a high level of over-consumption can be detected, while supporting the transition to agri-environment.

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