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Emissions keep rising among world's biggest meat and dairy producers

Urgent policy is needed to combat this trend, according to an analysis led by the FAIRR investor network.

Illustration of a pair of dairy cows.

Illustration of a pair of dairy cows. Source: Shutterstock/Olga Rai

A $70 trillion-backed investor group has called for an "urgent" policy focus on accelerating climate action across the global food and agriculture sector at the upcoming COP28 Climate Summit, after fresh data underscored how greenhouse gas emissions from the world's largest meat and dairy producers are still on the rise.

The FAIRR network of investors analysed the emissions data disclosed by 20 of the largest listed meat and dairy firms worldwide last year, together accounting for $295 billion in market value. It found that their collective emissions rose 3.28 percent in 2022-23.

Firms which saw their emissions rise last year include global producers such as Hormel Foods in the U.S. and New Hope Liuhe in China, both of which supply meat and dairy to global brands such as Walmart and McDonald's, according to the FAIRR network.

And while some of the 20 firms analyzed did see their emissions fall last year — including Danone and WH Groop in China — it explained these improvements were offset by rises in emissions from other dairy and meat producers.

With UN estimates suggesting livestock farming is responsible for around 14.5 percent of global emissions, FAIRR founder and chair Jeremy Coller said there was an "urgent need for more policy focus on the food and agriculture sector" to drive down its climate and environmental impacts.

Food system emissions deserve a place at the top of the table, alongside energy and transport.

He urged global policymakers to ensure agriculture and food are prioritized as leading issues at the upcoming COP28 UN Climate Summit in Dubai, which kicks off at the end of November.

"Food system emissions deserve a place at the top of the table, alongside energy and transport, as they represent an estimated third of greenhouse gas emissions and 40 percent of methane," said Coller. "Investors hope the first-ever publication of a food and agriculture roadmap at COP28 this month will catalyze the transition to 1.5C and a more sustainable food system."

Established in 2015 by the Jeremy Coller Foundation, the Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return (FAIRR) network is backed by investors managing around $70 trillion of assets worldwide.

Today's data was released as part of the investor group's annual index of the world's top 60 publicly listed animal protein producers. The index rates the firms against 10 environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics, and is "used extensively" by FAIRR members to assess the companies they invest in, according to the network.

The overall data points to an upward trend in emissions from the top 20 meat and dairy producers, but it also highlights pockets of progress within the sector, with growing numbers of firms expanding the scope of their emissions disclosure to investors.

It was 'encouraging to see more firms disclosing carbon footprints that encompass their entire supply chain.'

The index shows eight companies, or 40 percent of the top 20, publicly report their Scope 3 value chain emissions, including greenhouse gases from their supply chain and animal feed production. Both Tyson Foods and WH Groups — which owns Smithfield Foods — disclosed emissions from across all scopes for the first time this year, according to FAIRR.

Other good practice highlighted in the index includes moves from French giant Danone, which last year became one of the first companies to set Forest, Land and Agriculture (FLAG) targets aligned with the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) and committed to a 30 percent reduction in its methane emissions from fresh milk by 2030.

However, just four meat and dairy firms in the top 20 have to date set net zero emissions goals approved by the SBTi, the analysis found.

Thalia Vounaki, senior manager research and engagements at the FAIRR Initiative, said it was "encouraging to see more firms disclosing carbon footprints that encompass their entire supply chain, as these critical Scope 3 emissions account for the large majority of the sector's emissions."

However, she stressed there remained "a long way to go" to both improve disclosure and accelerate ambitious climate action across the meat and dairy sector.

"Investors must continue to engage with the sector with a clear message that to manage climate risk, they need comprehensive disclosures which include supply chain emissions and full inventories that split which emissions come from feed and which come from animals," she said.

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