The combined methane emissions of 15 of the world’s largest meat and dairy companies are higher than those of several of the world’s largest countries, including Russia, Canada and Australia, according to a new study.
The analysis from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and Changing Markets Foundation found that emissions by the companies – five meat and 10 dairy corporations – equate to more than 80% of the European Union’s entire methane footprint and account for 11.1% of the world’s livestock-related methane emissions.
“That just blew my mind,” said Shefali Sharma, director of the IATP’s European office. “We can’t continue to have this handful of companies controlling this many animals.”
Methane, expelled by cows and their manure, is far more potent than carbon dioxide, trapping heat 80 times more effectively and emissions are accelerating rapidly, according to the UN.
Researchers admit in the report that a lack of transparency from the companies makes it difficult to accurately measure greenhouse gas emissions. Results were estimated based on publicly available data on meat and milk production and regional livestock practices.
The report comes as the Cop27 climate conference unfolds in Egypt, where politicians and corporate leaders are discussing the role of agriculture and face accusations they are failing to consider meaningful solutions.
If the 15 companies were treated as a country, the report noted, it would be the 10th-largest greenhouse gas-emitting jurisdiction in the world. Their combined emissions outpace those of oil companies such as ExxonMobil, BP and Shell, researchers found.
Researchers singled out individual livestock companies such as JBS, the world’s largest meat company, and the French dairy giant Danone.
JBS’s methane emissions “far outpace all other companies”, according to the report, exceeding the combined livestock emissions of France, Germany, Canada and New Zealand.
The world’s second-largest meat company, Tyson, produces approximately as much livestock methane as Russia, researchers said, and Dairy Farmers of America produces as much as the United Kingdom.
JBS did not respond to requests for comment.
Tyson and Dairy Farmers of America declined interview requests. A Dairy Farmers of America spokesperson said in an email that the report’s comparison of the company with UK emissions “is not an apples to apples comparison and is clearly an attempt to make sensationalistic headlines”. Dairy Farmers of America “is committed to being a part of climate solutions”, the organization added.
The report recommended reforms to help curb emissions and climate breakdown, including governments requiring companies to report greenhouse gas emissions and fostering a “just transition” away from factory farming by reducing the number of animals per farm. Companies should also set goals to reduce emissions and be more transparent about methane production, the report concluded.
The US has resisted regulating farm methane emissions, choosing instead to offer voluntary incentives to farmers and companies for reducing greenhouse gasses. But change is unlikely unless the Environmental Protection Agency is allowed to regulate those emissions, said Cathy Day, climate policy coordinator with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
“There’s a narrative to focus on incentives only, to focus on environmental problems by paying people to solve them rather than requiring people to solve them,” she said. “My opinion is we don’t get there without regulatory solutions.”
The 15 companies studied are based in 10 countries, five of which have increased livestock methane emissions in the past decade, the report said. China’s emissions have increased 17%, far more than other countries.
While it would be helpful for people to eat fewer meat and dairy products, Sharma said, the true solution to curbing methane emissions was to end factory farming.
“We’re not saying people need to go vegan or vegetarian,” Sharma said. “We’re just saying we need to do it better.”