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Meat and Dairy Companies Spend Millions to Undermine Climate Policy

Jenny Donath reports about the lobbying of US firms despite underlying evidence of the effect of animal agriculture on climate change.

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The emissions of greenhouse gases keep on increasing while meat and dairy companies try to erase link between animal agriculture and global warming.

CO2 emissions are the number one driving force behind the imminent ramifications of climate change. Over the last seventy years, emissions have increased drastically. In 2019, overall emissions accounted for more than 36 billion tonnes compared to the six billion tonnes recorded in 1950.

With animal agriculture accounting for 16.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions, it is undeniable that leaders of the meat and dairy industries need to take responsibility for their impact on the planet. However, a new study reveals that they have are spending large amounts of money on covering their tracks.

Lobbying and Lies

According to a NYU-based study, the meat and dairy industry are trying to undermine the output of their greenhouse gases. Of 35 companies, only four — Nestle, Danone, Danish Crown and Dairy Farmers of America — have decided to support the net-zero emissions goal. In Switzerland and New Zealand, where some of those companies’ headquarters are based, other firms choose to omit the improvement of animal agriculture completely. Furthermore, the study has revealed that the ten biggest US-based companies, e.g. Cargill and Tyson, financially support organisations that attempt to combat the scientific evidence of the urgent climate emergency and their responsibility, by publishing unsubstantiated and questionable climate change research.

Researchers unveiled that almost $200 million were spent on lobbying to distort the effect of meat and dairy production on climate change between 2000 and 2019. One of those companies is the National Pork Producers Council, who voted against a so-called Cap-and-Trade bill which would intervene with their allocated cropland. Others are the National Chicken Council, the International Dairy Foods Association, and the North American Meat Institute (NAMI), of which the latter defended its impact on the environment by comparing their emissions to Brazil, which has even worse annual agriculture emissions.

Jennifer Jacquet, who is one of the authors of the study and a professor of the Department of Environmental Studies at NYU, said that “US industry really leans on Brazil’s terrible carbon footprint to compare its own” and is not surprised “that they’re this active in shaping climate discourse.”

Animal Agriculture and Climate Change

The dairy and meat industries are significant factors in the continuous increase in greenhouse gases. Beef meat and cattle milk production have the highest emissions in total, shortly followed by pig meat, chicken meat, and eggs. Of all livestock, cattle contribute 62% to those emitted gases. “Part of that is because digestion by ruminants produces a lot of methane,” says Prof. Sir Charles Godfray, a population biologist. The more cows are raised in one farm, the more methane will be released. Hence, why a lot of criticism has been directed towards this type of animal farming.

As a result, more crops must be grown to feed the animals. Alternatively, that land could be used to grow food, e.g. vegetables for human food consumption. Pig housing and chicken keeping equally contribute to the raise of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, as pigs and chickens in farms mainly rely on soya as a food source. This means that large parts of rainforests in Latin America get logged despite trees being well-known for absorbing carbon-dioxide and converting it into oxygen.

The International Energy Agency (IEA), an alliance of countries, shares a common goal — net-zero emissions by 2050. The focus lies on achieving a maximum rise in temperature of 1.5ºC by creating, among others, a functioning electricity system and eliminating the use of fossil fuel and coal plants. Large corporations such as oil or automotive industries must completely overhaul their approaches to lower their CO2 emissions. Furthermore, meat and dairy industries, — which count as “some of the world’s biggest contributors to climate change” — must change their strategy to more environmentally friendly.

Concluding Comments

If the nations and industries most responsible for those greenhouse emissions don’t begin to make a difference now, the world will be facing devastating effects. The increase of CO2 emissions released into the atmosphere through human-made constructs has already begun to have a massive impact.

For instance, the ocean alone absorbs thirty percent of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which leads to an increase in water acidity. Since carbon dioxide plays a key role in controlling the temperature of the earth, the ongoing decline of the Arctic ice caps will result in a much wider water surface. This means that even more energy will be absorbed by the ocean. Furthermore, if we exceed the 1.5ºC goal, we will be facing more frequent and extreme hot weather, beyond what has been recorded today. Agricultural droughts, a rise in sea level, and monsoon-like rainfall are just a few irreversible effects which would change life as we know it.


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