Just a year ago, the United States and the European Union put the spotlight on methane. It had to be drastically reduced to fight climate change. and convinced to 130 countries to commit to a 30% drop in CH4 emissions. However, the activity of 15 large meat and dairy companies is enough to emit almost as much methane per year as the entire EU combined.
Factory farming: a handful of meat and milk companies pollute as much as entire countries
The combined emissions of these companies add up to about 15.5 million tons of CH4 per year, according to the calculation made by the Institute for Agricultural and Trade Policy (IATP) together with the Changing Markets Foundation. This volume, they continue, is equivalent to 83% of what the countries of the European Union together emit and exceeds Russia – two major global emitters of greenhouse gases.
These 15 meat and dairy giants are spread across the world. The number one in the ranking are two Brazilian corporations: JBS, to which they attribute 4.9 million tons of CH4 per year, and Marfrig (1.9 million). “JBS methane emissions exceed those caused by the livestock sectors of Germany, France, Canada and New Zealand combined”, illustrates this study.
The American Tyson is also above a million tons of methane, but large emitters are distributed throughout Europe (Danone, Nestlé, Danish Crown…), North America (Saputo, DFA), Asia (Yili, WH) and New Zealand ( Fonterra).
“This shows that you are not on the path to the objective of the methane compromisesince the focus was more on technologies such as new additives for animal feed over the reduction of cattle heads”, concludes the work.
Methane is one of the main components of the greenhouse gas cocktail. Although it persists less than CO2, its action is more powerful, which is why it is responsible for half of the rise in global temperature on the planet since the pre-industrial era.
Why is it important to cut methane? Due to its short-lived nature and more powerful greenhouse effect, “it allows short-term gains to be made in the effort to cut emissions in this decade,” they describe from Methane Commitment. The decade that mathematical calculations have drawn as “decisive” if you want to have possibilities of limiting the extra warming of the Earth to 1.5ºC by the end of the century.
In 2021, when launching this Commitment – promoted by the US and the EU – it was stated that it was “the year of methane”. And it represented “the opportunity to change the climatic trajectory of the next 20 years.” The promise was to reduce global emissions of this greenhouse gas by 30% by the end of the decade.
At the moment, last year, the concentration of methane in the atmosphere experienced the largest year-on-year increase since there are measurements. It grew 1% to 1,908 parts per million, according to data from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). “It appears to be the result of both biological processes and those caused by human activities.” There is currently 262% more methane in the atmosphere than during pre-industrial times.
The UN methane report It included conclusions explaining that a 34% reduction in beef and dairy consumption in the European Union “would lead to a reduction of six million tons of methane per year.” If the reduction was broader (50%), the drop could reach 14 million tons per year.
The European director of the IATP, Shefali Sharma, says that “although the emissions of these large companies rival those of entire states, they will not do enough voluntarily: governments must regulate and support farmers in a transition away from industrial farming”.
Large-scale livestock farming is the source of 32% of global methane emissions and nearly 15% of all greenhouse gases. Livestock, whether for meat or milk, accounts for two out of every three tons of gases released by the sector, according to the FAO.
Three years ago, the UN Panel of experts on climate change called for changes in the diet to curb global warming due to the impact in the form of gas emissions caused by the intensive formula of food production. And he aimed to use more vegetables and meat obtained with less energy-demanding methods.
“Governments should require this handful of companies – which are responsible for one in 10 tons of methane released by livestock – to report and cut their emissions,” concludes Nusa Ubranic, director of the Fundación Cambio de Mercados.