Big meat emits more methane, a potent greenhouse gas, than big oil. If the 15 big meat companies were treated as a country, a recent report noted, it would be the 10th-largest greenhouse gas-emitting jurisdiction in the world. Their combined emissions outpace those of oil companies such as ExxonMobil, BP and Shell, researchers found.
The analysis from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and Changing Markets Foundation found that emissions by the companies – five meat and 10 dairy corporations – equate to more than 80% of the European Union’s entire methane footprint and account for 11.1% of the world’s livestock-related methane emissions.
Methane, expelled by cows and their manure, is far more potent than carbon dioxide, trapping heat 80 times more effectively and emissions are accelerating rapidly, according to the UN. According to the UN, cutting methane is the “strongest lever” we have to slow global heating. A University of Oxford study published in 2018 found that a 90 percent reduction in beef consumption was needed to avoid climate breakdown. In April 2022, a UN report also stated that the world must eat less meat.
Despite this, many world leaders, along with the general public, have been reluctant to accept that our diets are unsustainable. This year’s annual UN climate conference – COP27 – once again drew controversy for serving beef. The decision was blasted by The Vegan Society, which called it “disappointing.”
The US has resisted regulating farm methane emissions, choosing instead to offer voluntary incentives to farmers and companies for reducing greenhouse gasses. But change is unlikely unless the Environmental Protection Agency is allowed to regulate those emissions, said Cathy Day, climate policy coordinator with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. The 15 companies studied are based in 10 countries, five of which have increased livestock methane emissions in the past decade, the report said. China’s emissions have increased 17%, far more than other countries.
The effect of animal agriculture goes far beyond methane when it comes to global warming. It’s one of the biggest drivers of deforestation, due to the pressure to clear forests to raise crops for animal feed or provide grazing land. In addition, animal agriculture is one of the biggest users of fossil fuels, used to plant, fertilize and harvest the animal feed, transport the animals to slaughter, to meat processing plants before being send to grocery stores.
The only solution to reducing the greenhouse gases and devastation caused by animal agriculture is for everyone to stop eating animal products.