Top 15 Meat and Dairy Companies Produce Almost as Much Methane as Entire European Union

According to a new report by the Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy, the top five meat companies and the top 10 dairy companies produce 80% of the methane of the entire European Union (which has a population of over 445 million).

The report for the first time estimates the methane emissions of five of the largest meat corporations and ten of the largest dairy corporations. Their combined methane emissions are roughly 12.8 million tons, “which equates to over 80% of the European Union’s entire methane footprint.”

These companies’ emissions represent around 3.4% of all global anthropogenic methane emissions and 11.1% of the world’s livestock-related methane, states the report, which also provides the latest estimates for the overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of the same companies, which amount to around 734 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent – higher than the emissions of Germany.

The report calls for urgent and ambitious legislation to address the significant climate impacts of global meat and dairy corporations and for governments to support a just transition for the transformation of industrial animal agriculture towards agroecology.

“Climate change is wreaking havoc globally through more frequent and extreme weather events (floods, wildfires) and the slow-onset climate processes, such as droughts, desertification and sea level rise”, states the report. “Climate disruption is already affecting farmers everywhere, as our agricultural systems are uniquely dependent on stable climatic conditions. The higher global temperatures rise, the more alarming the disruptions to food production will become.”

Rapid emissions cuts this decade are critical in preventing catastrophic climate change, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Methane emissions cuts have been identified in particular as key levers to avert both temperature overshoot and dangerous tipping points. Methane is a short-lived but extremely potent gas: it has around 80 times more warming potential than CO2 over a 20-year timespan, but only lives in the atmosphere for around a decade.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme’s Global Methane Assessment, methane emissions should be reduced by at least 40-45% in this critical decade of climate action. Livestock agriculture is the single largest source of methane, responsible for around 32% of anthropogenic methane emissions.4 In this report we investigate the emissions of some of the biggest meat and dairy companies.

Here are the key findings of the report:

  • Individual companies’ methane emissions are also comparable to countries’ livestock-related methane emissions. For instance, Marfrig’s methane emissions rival those of Australia’s entire livestock sector, Tyson’s are comparable to the Russian Federation’s, and Dairy Farmers of America’s to the livestock methane of the UK.
  • JBS’s methane emissions far outpace all other companies. Its methane emissions exceed the combined livestock methane emissions of France, Germany, Canada and New Zealand or compare to 55% of US livestock methane.
  • When calculated over a 20-year timescale, the more relevant scale for climate action, these emissions are even more significant, comprising anywhere from nearly half to three-quarters of these companies’ estimated GHG footprint, highlighting the urgent need for action on methane.
  • Their total overall GHG emissions are also significant, slightly higher than the emissions of Germany. If these 15 companies were treated as a country, they would be the tenth largest GHG-emitting jurisdiction in the world.5 Their combined emissions also exceed those of oil companies such as ExxonMobil, BP and Shell.
  • In spite of their massive climate impact, the majority of companies fail to report either total GHGs or methane-specific emissions. Nine out of 15 companies (60%) either do not report their emissions or do not report their total supply chain (scope 3) emissions. None of the companies reported their supply chain methane emissions.

More information on this report can be found by clicking here.