The nine U.S.-based companies covered in the report emitted 6 percent of overall U.S. emissions, the study found, but emitted about 350 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. That’s on the same scale as Brazil, which has the highest carbon footprint from animal agriculture and where the top four livestock companies emitted about 380 million metric tons of the greenhouse gas annually. But that amounts to about 28 percent of that country’s emissions.
Recent reports have found that cutting emissions from agriculture is critical for controlling runaway climate change. But 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.
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 four of the 35 companies—Dairy Farmers of America, Nestlé, Danish Crown and Danone—had pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
JBS, Cargill, Hormel, Fonterra and Smithfield had not according to new research from New York University.
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.
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
Industry lobby groups—the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the National Pork Producers Council, the North American Meat Institute, the National Chicken Council, the International Dairy Foods Association and the American Farm Bureau Federation, along with its state members—spent nearly $200 million, much of it lobbying against climate and environmental regulations, from 2000 to 2019, the authors found.
The report also looked at the contributions of individual companies. Exxon spent roughly $17 million on political campaigns and more than $240 million on lobbying during the 20 years studied. In the same time frame, Tyson gave $3.2 million to political campaigns. But relative to each company’s revenue, Tyson spent double what Exxon spent on political campaigns and 33 percent more on lobbying.