Meat and dairy companies to surpass oil industry as world’s biggest polluters, report finds

Josh Gabbatiss

Meat and dairy companies are on track to be the world’s biggest contributors to climate change, outpacing even the fossil fuel industry, according to a new report.

To arrive at this conclusion, non-profit organisations the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and GRAIN conducted an analysis of the planet’s 35 largest meat and dairy companies.

They found that broadly speaking the companies were being secretive about their emissions data and few had set hard targets intended to deal with their pollution.

If these industries continue down their current path, the authors of the report warned that the livestock sector could be responsible for 80 per cent of the allowable greenhouse gas budget by 2050.

“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, a researcher at 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."

When taken together, the world’s top five meat and dairy corporations are already responsible for more emissions than ExxonMobil, Shell or BP.

Meat and dairy consumption is concentrated in a small number of countries, and the top livestock companies mirror this trend.

China, the US, the EU, Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand are collectively responsible for over 60 per cent of global meat and dairy emissions – about twice the rest of the world on a per capita basis.

As part of their analysis, the authors looked at efforts being taken to reduce emissions and found that only six had set targets that included their entire supply chain, despite this portion counting for up to 90 per cent of total emissions.

The report adds to a growing body of evidence for the harm meat and dairy consumption can cause to the planet.

A paper published in the journal Science in June found that if everyone stopped eating meat and dairy products, global farmland use could be reduced by three quarters.

This led the study’s lead author to describe a vegan diet as “the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth”.

The authors of the new report said this analysis was evidence of the far-reaching impact of the livestock industry and the need for food systems that meet the needs of farmers, consumers and the planet.

“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,” said Shefali Sharma, director of IATP.

“This report shows what a key role they play in creating climate change as well.”