Twenty livestock companies are responsible for more greenhouse gas
emissions than either Germany, Britain or France – and are receiving
billions of dollars in financial backing to do so, according to a new
report by environmental campaigners.
Raising livestock contributes significantly to carbon emissions, with
animal agriculture accounting for 14.5% of the world’s greenhouse gas
emissions. Scientific reports have found that rich countries need huge
reductions in meat and dairy consumption to tackle the climate
Between 2015 and 2020, global meat and dairy companies received more
than US$478bn in backing from 2,500 investment firms, banks, and
pension funds, most of them based in North America or Europe,
according to the Meat
Atlas, which was compiled by Friends of the Earth and the European
political foundation, Heinrich Böll Stiftung.
With that level of financial support, the report estimates that meat
production could increase by a further 40m tonnes by 2029, to hit 366m
tonnes of meat a year.
Although the vast majority of growth was likely to take place in the
global south, the biggest producers will continue to be China, Brazil,
the USA and the members of the European Union. By 2029 these countries
may still produce 60% of worldwide meat output.
Across the world, the report says, three-quarters of all agricultural
land is used to raise animals or the crops to feed them. “In Brazil
alone, 175m hectares is dedicated to raising cattle,” an area of land
that is about equal to the “entire agricultural area of the European
Across the world, three-quarters of all agricultural land is
used to raise animals or the crops to feed them, the report says.
Photograph: Meat Atlas 2021/OECD, FAO
The report also points to ongoing consolidation in the meat and dairy
sector, with the biggest companies buying smaller ones and reducing
competition. The effect risks squeezing out more sustainable food
“To keep up with this [level of animal protein production] industrial
animal farming is on the rise and keeps pushing sustainable models out
of the market,” the report says.
The recent interest shown by animal protein companies in meat
alternatives and substitutes was not yet a solution, campaigners said.
“This is all for profit and is not really addressing the fundamental
issues we see in the current animal protein-centred food system that
is having a devastating impact on climate, biodiversity and is
actually harming people around the globe,” said Stanka Becheva, a food
and agriculture campaigner working with Friends
of the Earth.
The bottom line, said Becheva, is that “we need to begin reducing the
number of food animals on the planet and incentivise different
More meat industry regulation is needed too, she said, “to make sure
companies are paying for the harms they have created throughout the
supply chain and to minimise further damage”.
On the investment side, Becheva said private banks and investors, as
well as development banks such as the World Bank and the European Bank
for Reconstruction and Development needed to stop financing
large-scale, intensive animal protein production projects.
Responding to the report, Paolo Patruno, deputy secretary general of
the European Association for the Meat Processing Industry (CLITRAVI),
said: “We don’t believe that any food sector is more or less
sustainable than another. But there are more or less sustainable ways
to produce plant or animal foods and we are committed to making animal
protein production more sustainable.
“We also know that average GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions in the EU
from livestock is half that of the global average. The global average
is about 14% and the EU average is 7%,” he added.
In England and Wales, the National Farmers’ Union has set a target of reaching
net zero greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture by 2040.
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