‘Big 13’ dairy firms have UK-sized carbon footprint

Report reveals extent of giant firms’ impact on planet and calls for cap on production

Cows inside an industrial dairy farm

Thirteen is proving to be the unluckiest number for the planet – at least where the dairy industry is concerned.A new US report has found that the world’s 13 biggest dairy companies together are pumping out the same amount of greenhouse gases as a small country – this one, in fact.

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) report, Milking the Planet, reveals the giant firms produce not only vast quantities of milk but vast quantities of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane. In fact, their harmful emissions output puts them neck and neck with the UK, the sixth biggest economy in the world.

While the message is slowly getting through around the world that the meat and livestock industry is causing untold damage to the environment and planet, dairy’s role in the global heating equation has not fully sunk in.

Yet its impact is growing: in the decade to 2015, milk production grew by 30 per cent and the dairy sector’s emissions by 18 per cent, according to a report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation and Global Dairy Platform. From 2015 to 2017, according to the IATP report, the total emitted by the 13 largest companies rose by 11 per cent, putting them on a par with the UK.

The IATP now argues that only caps on production can protect the planet and local farmers from the large companies, whose stranglehold on the market has driven down prices, forcing governments to spend taxpayers’ money on subsiding smaller producers.

IATP’s European director Shefali Sharma, who wrote the report, said that meat and dairy firms were not obliged to meet the same standards demanded of other more obviously polluting industries, such as oil and gas.

“Unlike growing public scrutiny on fossil fuel companies, little public pressure exists to hold global meat and dairy corporations accountable for their emissions. Few of these companies are even reporting their emissions,” she said. “As governments ratchet up their climate goals, the rise of large-scale dairy and public incentives that further increase corporate dairy power, production and emissions must be stopped,” she said. “Rural livelihoods and our planet’s future depend on it.”

Last year, as part of its “Better by Half” project, the Eating Better alliance identified 24 actions that government, the food industry and investors could take to create the right environment for Britain to reduce its meat and dairy consumption by half by 2030.

Read Milking the Planet