In a new report issued Monday, the environmental group GRAIN provided detailed evidence on how large food corporations, especially in the meat and dairy sector, play a major role in the climate crisis — not just the energy sector, as commonly thought.
The finding is not new — even the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization has declared that meat production alone now generates more greenhouse gas emissions than all the world’s transport combined.
“The power of meat and dairy corporations and the rapid expansion of industrial livestock and chemical-intensive feed crops must be curbed if we are to take meaningful action to address climate change,” according to the report. This means tackling the policies, like corporate subsidies and free trade agreements, that promote factory farming.
Cutting industrial meat and dairy — especially in North America, Europe and some other countries with high levels of consumption like Brazil — would have a significant impact on the earth’s climate. Methane, the major greenhouse gas from livestock, remains in the atmosphere less time than carbon dioxide and traps 28 times more heat. Consequently, lowering the production of methane can have a relatively quick payoff.
But GRAIN warned that changing individual practices of meat and dairy intake have to go hand in hand with government policies that cut off corporate subsidies promoting factory farming and free trade agreements.
Moreover, all meat and dairy are not created equal. In most of the Global South, livestock is raised mainly by small farmers practicing low-emissions, mixed farming, plus 200 million herders who often graze their animals in areas where crops cannot be grown. Not only do these production and consumption systems contribute little to climate change, they also improve family nutrition, enhance livelihoods and are an integral part of cultural and religious traditions.
“It’s crucial to make a distinction between different systems,” argues GRAIN researcher Renee Vellve. “Large-scale, confined feedlot operations controlled by a handful of corporations spew massive greenhouse gases into the atmosphere — from feed production to enormous manure lagoons to long-distance transportation. Not to mention additional negative impacts on the environment, labor conditions and public health.”