How the beef industry ignores methane emissions

Cattle farming

The pledge from more than 105 countries to join a US-EU-led coalition to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030 was one of the first and most eye-catching statements at the COP on the climate in Glasgow in November. The powerful greenhouse gas, which is up to 80 times more efficient at heating the planet in the short term than carbon dioxide, has long been considered the easiest way to reduce global warming. According to the United Nations Global Methane Assessment, the COP’s pledges alone would reduce warming estimates by 0.2 ° C by the 2040s.

However, the fruit at hand begins to spoil. Meat and dairy industries (including livestock suppliers to McDonalds, Walmart and Costco) are undermining COP26 methane reduction commitments by not tracking their own emissions and failing to track those of their third-party suppliers , according to a new report released by the FAIRR Initiative, a $ 45 trillion investor network focused on the environmental, social and governance risks and opportunities of intensive animal production.

Methane is a by-product of the digestive process in cows and other ruminants. Each cow can produce 250 to 500 liters of methane per day. When animal droppings are collected in retention ponds, a common technique among large-scale commercial meat producers, more methane is created. The billion cows used in the global meat and dairy industries, as well as other livestock, release the methane equivalent of 3.1 gigatonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere each year, accounting for 44% of global anthropogenic methane emissions. If the global livestock sector were a country, it would be the world’s third largest producer of greenhouse gases, behind the United States and India in terms of overall emissions.

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According to the Coller FAIRR Protein Producer Index, which assesses the sustainability of factory farming, the industry is doing nothing to address the problem. Only 18 percent of the world’s meat and dairy producers measure their methane emissions, according to this year’s study. One in four companies that measure their emissions have seen an increase this year. “The aspirations of COP26 have given the food industry a major share of responsibility,” says Jeremy Coller, president of the FAIRR investor network. “We will not be able to meet the obligations of COP26 until we manage the protein supply chain … Nonetheless, issues ranging from methane to manure management highlight the growing perception of the market. that cows are the new smut. ”

The index, now in its fourth year, assesses 60 world-listed and publicly traded animal protein manufacturers, with a total value of $ 363 billion, based on ten environmental, social and governance questions such as greenhouse gas emissionss, deforestation, the use of antibiotics and the investment in alternative proteins. The results are made public so that FAIRR investors and others can assess the sustainability and climate commitments of companies in their portfolios. It also serves as an industry standard and a motivator for progress. “We must take advantage of the leadership that is developing in corporate areas and revolutionize the way our food, especially protein, is produced if we are to prevent the meat and dairy sector from becoming an asset. blocked, ”adds Paste.

Some of the companies surveyed are increasing their investments in sustainable food ingredients. Despite the fact that JBS, the world’s largest beef producer, does not measure emissions, it is working to minimize methane emissions by working with DSM, a Dutch feed additive company, to help cattle reduce its emissions through the use of a new dietary supplement. Of course, this does not address the issue of land use changes such as deforestation associated with cattle grazing, which results in increased carbon emissions.

The slow adoption of methane monitoring and reduction measures by the meat and dairy industries is paradoxical, given that they are expected to be two of the industrial sectors hardest hit by climate change. At least seven of the 60 companies are already disclosing climate-related financial implications, according to the FAIRR report. Tyson Foods, located in the United States, saw its operating income drop $ 410 million year-over-year in the first nine months of 2021, in part due to severe weather outages. As the cost of food rises, Brazilian company BRF, one of the world’s largest food conglomerates, estimates that climate-influenced fluctuations in precipitation rates are already causing annual losses of up to $ 140 million. For investors, that alone should be a warning signal.

“The evidence is clear that high-emission industries like agriculture need to change over the next decade to avoid uncontrollable climate change,” says Eugenie Mathieu, senior analyst at Aviva Investors, member of the FAIRR network. “Eighty-six percent of the world’s largest suppliers of meat and dairy have yet to set substantial emission reduction targets, which is hugely unnecessary as extreme weather events gradually take a toll on results. financials of these companies. Investors can help by requiring the animal protein producers they invest in to step up and speed up the transformation. ”

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