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29th Jan 2023

Revealed: Europe's 20 biggest meat and dairy firms' pollution

  • Meat and dairy giants in Europe are planning to offset part of their emissions by transforming animal manure into 'biogas' (Photo: Lukas Budimaier)
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The 20 biggest meat and dairy corporations in Europe are responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the Netherlands or Denmark, new research from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) found on Monday (13 December).

The report comes ahead of the European Commission's presentation of its carbon farming initiative, which aims to increase the amount of carbon dioxide stored in soil – with the goal to reach climate-neutrality in the land sector by 2035.

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In practice, this means that carbon removals would balance the greenhouse-gas emissions from all land, livestock and fertiliser use.

A draft of the proposal, seen by EUobserver, states that carbon farming would reward farmers for their management or amount of carbon sequestrated, becoming "a new source of income for land managers".

Green groups, however, argued that this is yet another missed opportunity to address the environmental impact of agriculture, since agribusiness like big meat and dairy companies could bypass much-needed emissions cuts in the sector, by offsetting them with carbon farming credits.

"The climate footprint of Europe's big meat and dairy companies rival the fossil-fuel giants yet they continue to operate with impunity," said IATP director Shefali Sharma.

"The European Commission will be handing big meat and dairy corporations an early Christmas present if it throws its weight – and taxpayers' money – behind dubious soil carbon offsets," she added.

Experts consider that carbon stored in the soil risks being quickly released into the atmosphere as a result of floods, droughts and fires.

The analysis of the climate targets and plans of the the 20 largest meat and dairy companies revealed that none of them are considering shifting towards agro-ecological farming or reducing the production of meat, the IATP says.

Instead, big corporations like Nestlé, Danish Crown, and Dutch meat processor Vion are planning to offset part of their emissions by transforming animal manure into 'biogas'.

Additionally, the IATP report reveals that the combined emissions of these 20 companies are comparable to nearly all the emissions of Italian oil giant Eni, and equivalent to 60 percent of the emissions of French oil group Total.

It adds that only four out of these 20 companies report emissions from their entire supply chain, and that only a few of them have committed to reducing livestock emissions by 2030 – namely Nestlé, FrieslandCampina and ABP.

"Livestock production is once against the elephant in the room when it comes to agricultural policy," said Celia Nyssen from the European Environmental Bureau.

The farming sector has struggled to reduce emission over the last two decades, with livestock estimated to be responsible for up to 17 percent of the EU's total greenhouse gas emissions.

However, according to the European Environment Agency, current projections only foresee a modest decline, seen as "largely insufficient" to reach climate-neutrality goal by 2050.

The carbon farming initiative is expected to be presented on Tuesday (14 December) as part of the communication on sustainable carbon cycles.

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