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A failure to take action on methane emissions by the world’s biggest meat and dairy companies is fuelling the climate crisis, say campaigners who have compiled the first ranking of what the animal protein sector is doing about the short-lived but potent greenhouse gas.
Livestock generate about 32% of anthropogenic, or human-generated, methane, mainly from the planet’s billion-plus cattle.
The new ranking, published today, names the three worst-performing meat and dairy corporations as two French companies – Groupe Bigard and Lactalis – and the Japanese company Itoham.
The ranking was based on an examination of the companies’ climate targets “to see if they had any methane action plans or reporting and to see what research they were doing”, said Nuša Urbancic of Changing Markets Foundation, the ranking’s co-author.
Even companies that ranked best – Switzerland’s Nestlé, France’s Danone and New Zealand’s Fonterra – were doing too little, said the report. For example, none of the 20 companies, which together represent the “vast majority” of livestock sector emissions, have concrete methane reduction targets, it said.
Leading climate scientists have warned that methane is playing an ever greater role in global heating. Cutting methane emissions, it has been said, is the strongest lever we have to slow climate heating over the next 25 years.
The company closest to having a methane action plan, the ranking found, was Nestlé, although it failed to “include any milestones or key performance indicators”.
Anne Mottet, livestock director at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, said companies were under no obligation to report emissions. However, she said the natural links between animal agriculture, methane, climate, food security and nutrition, all of which must be carefully balanced, made it “very important for governments and NGOs to engage with food companies on methane”.
Although more than half the ranked companies were undertaking research into methane reduction, mainly via methane-reducing feed, the report said none appeared to be contemplating lowering animal numbers or replacing animals with other protein sources.
“Most [of the ranked] companies are investing in alternative proteins, but [they are not] looking at alternative proteins as a replacement for animal production,” said Urbancic, who added that meat and dairy corporations were being “given a free pass by governments”.
Responding to the criticisms, Groupe Bigard sent a report showing a 9% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions since 2015, but made no mention of methane. Fonterra said it includes methane from livestock in its annual sustainability report and that its “aspiration” is to reach net zero carbon by 2050.
Nestlé said its ambition was to halve its emissions by 2030 and achieve net zero by 2050 at the latest. “One of the specific solutions we are exploring is related to the diet and digestion of livestock animals. By using feed alternatives, we can help minimise methane emissions,” it said.
Danone said that while it did not have specific methane reduction targets, they were included in its ambition to reach net zero by 2050. Lactalis said it was exploring solutions to reduce methane emissions through innovation in feed, increasing yields per cow and providing technical support to farmers.
Other companies did not respond to requests for comment or said they had no comment.
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