Shoppers’ favourite meat and dairy products come from companies that collectively cause more greenhouse gas emissions than Ireland and the Netherlands combined.
The massive impact of the top 20 beef and dairy firms in Europe, three of them Irish, is revealed in a report published today which questions why governments do not target them for climate action.
The report, ‘How Europe’s big meat and dairy are heating up the planet’, is by research and campaign NGO, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP).
It has calculated that the top 20 beef and dairy firms headquartered in Europe between them are responsible for 244 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually.
That is the equivalent of half the global emissions of oil giant Chevron, is four times what all of Ireland emits in a year and is more than emissions from Ireland and the Netherlands combined.
The companies report much lower figures because they only have to account for emissions from their production operations, termed scope 1 and 2 emissions, not the much greater emissions from the livestock they buy in from farmers, classified as scope 3.
Some, including Ireland’s ABP, Glanbia and Dawn Meats, have made voluntary commitments to working with farmers to develop lower emission practices but IATP says voluntary actions are not sufficient.
Shefali Sharma of IATP said: “The climate footprints of Europe’s big meat and dairy companies rival the fossil fuel giants, yet they continue to operate with impunity.”
She said while some had climate action plans, there was still a heavy reliance on “accounting tricks, greenwash and dubious offsets to distract from the fundamental changes needed to cut emissions”.
Fundamental changes mean reducing livestock numbers while allowing farmers to get a higher return on less emissions-intensive agriculture.
The report calculates that emissions associated with ABP increased by 45pc between 2016-2018 as the company grew its business.
ABP has a stated commitment to reducing scope 1 and 2 emissions by 56pc by 2050 and its scope 3 emissions by 17pc over the same period.
“We have already reduced greenhouse gas emissions across our operations by 28pc since the beginning of our sustainability programme in 2008. Our work in this space is independently evaluated by the Carbon Trust.”
Glanbia has committed to a 31pc cut in scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2030 and a 25pc reduction in scope 3 “per tonne” of product purchased.
IATP says reliance on reducing the emission intensity of products will not stop emissions rising as companies increase their output.
Dawn Meats has a similar plan, committing to cutting scope 1 and 2 emissions by 30pc by 2030, and taking part in the Department of Agriculture’s ‘Signpost’ programme which measures the potential for land to absorb or sequester emissions.
The report raises questions about the programme.
“The risk is that the Irish Government and the companies that are part of this programme also begin to count the carbon sequestered here towards carbon credits or offsetting their own emissions, ignoring the impermanence of land-based carbon and the need to directly cut their emissions.”