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STUDY: Big Meat and Dairy Companies Have Spent Millions Lobbying Against Climate Action

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Some of the world’s biggest contributors to climate change, spent a considerable amount of time and money downplaying the link between animal agriculture and climate change. Animal agriculture is responsible for more than 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

GEORGINA GUSTIN: Top U.S. meat and dairy companies, along with livestock and agricultural lobbying groups, have spent millions campaigning against climate action and sowing doubt about the links between animal agriculture and climate change, according to new research from New York University. The study, published… in the journal Climatic Change, also said the world’s biggest meat and dairy companies aren’t doing enough to curb their greenhouse gas emissions, with only a handful making pledges to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

“These companies are some of the world’s biggest contributors to climate change,” said Oliver Lazarus, one of the study’s three authors, now a doctoral student at Harvard University. “They’ve spent a considerable amount of time and money downplaying the link between animal agriculture and climate change.”

The research, which builds on data first published in 2017 and 2018 by the advocacy group GRAIN and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), is the first peer-reviewed study to document the individual carbon footprints of meat and dairy companies. The authors found that, as of last summer, only five of the 35 companies — Dairy Farmers of America, Nestlé, Danish Crown and Danone and Arla — had pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050…

Overall, animal agriculture is responsible for more than 14 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. According to calculations by GRAIN and IATP, the five largest livestock-based producers—JBS, Tyson, Cargill, Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) and Fonterra—emitted more greenhouse gases than ExxonMobil. The NYU researchers said they’re not aware of more recent and accessible company-level data, although a 2020 report from IATP found that emissions from individual dairy companies climbed in the years since the GRAIN assessment.

Recent reports, including from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, have found that cutting emissions from agriculture is critical for controlling runaway climate change. But the new research found that only seven of the 16 countries where the largest livestock producers are based mention animal agriculture in their plans to meet the targets of the Paris climate agreement…

While the Paris agreement focuses on individual country’s emissions—and their potential to reduce them—the authors of the new report looked at how these companies’ future emissions compared to the emissions reductions pledges of their home countries. They determined that emissions produced by Switzerland-based Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, and New Zealand-based dairy giant, Fonterra, were so high that they would eclipse their respective home country’s emissions pledges, in effect consuming the entirety of those countries’ emissions budgets. Denmark-based Arla, the largest producer of dairy products in Scandinavia, will account for 60 percent of Denmark’s total emissions.

“Those meat and dairy emissions would actually completely wipe out the emissions (those countries) say they’re going to be emitting according to their Paris agreement pledges,” said Jennifer Jacquet, an associate professor in NYU’s Department of Environmental Studies and one of the authors. In taking this approach, the authors say, they’re assigning responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions to countries on a corporate basis…

The next goal of the study… was to examine how these companies and their lobbying groups have fought climate regulation in Congress and before the Environmental Protection Agency, and to analyze how they’ve shaped a narrative around animal agriculture’s role in climate change. The authors calculated that U.S. agribusiness, which includes meat and dairy companies and also other agricultural companies, spent $750 million on national political candidates from 2000 to 2020. The U.S. energy sector, by comparison, spent $1 billion.

The same agribusinesses spent $2.5 billion on lobbying from 2000 and 2019, compared to $6.2 billion by energy and natural resource companies. The authors said these companies also spent their lobbying money on issues beyond climate change, including the Farm Bill and farm subsidies… But, they wrote, “it is often difficult to disentangle the two as policy decisions on crop incentives, land-use, and animal production methods have large implications for the extent and intensity of the animal agriculture sector’s emissions.” SOURCE…

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