Twenty livestock companies across the world are responsible for emitting more greenhouse gas than either Britain, France, or Germany, according to a new report.
A total of 932 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent emissions are produced by the biggest companies that process meat and milk, says the annual ‘Meat Atlas’ report compiled by German research NGO Heinrich-Boll-Stiftung and Friends of the Earth Europe.
Brazilian multinational JBS – the largest meat processing company in the world based on sales – is responsible for more than a quarter of that amount of emissions.
The biggest producers continue to be Brazil, China, the European Union, and the US. In Brazil alone, 175m hectares - equivalent to the entire agricultural area of the European Union – is dedicated to raising cattle, the report said.
By 2029, these countries may still produce 60 per cent of worldwide meat output, the report added.
Across the world, three-quarters of all agricultural land is used to raise animals or the crops to feed them, the researchers wrote.
The five biggest meat and milk producers emit the same volume of greenhouse gas as oil giant Exxon, the report said.
Almost 15 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions come from raising livestock, UN statistics show.
Meat and dairy companies received about £350bn ($478bn) from 2,500 investors between 2015 and 2020 through investment companies, pension funds, and banks, the report said.
The researchers estimate that, with that level of investment in the sector, meat production could increase by a further 40m tonnes by 2029, to hit 366m tonnes of meat a year. In the 1970s, meat production was just a third of current levels.
Study co-author Christine Chemnitz said: “This is, by far, too much to respect the boundaries of our planet.
“No country on Earth has a strategy to ambitiously reduce meat production or consumption.”
In the report, the researchers wrote: “The fact that the meat industry keeps profiting through all crises while being subject to little regulation poses the question as to whom governments really listen to.
“While livestock corporations fuel the climate crisis, deforestation, pesticide use and biodiversity loss, and while they drive people off their land, they are still supported and financed by the world’s most powerful banks and investors, many of them from Europe.
“Policies on the other hand – be they on animal welfare, trade or climate – include very few restrictions on this damaging industry.”
In addition to livestock emissions, the report warns of the growing environmental impact of soybeans used for feed.
Ms Chemnitz said about 1.2 million square kilometres – an area three times the size of Germany – are used for soy farming, of which more than 90 per cent is used for feed for livestock.
This is driving deforestation and threatening biodiversity as land is cleared to make room for the crops, and demand for pesticides rises, the report said.