A new report claims that the combined greenhouse gas emissions produced by the largest dairy companies in the world equal the emissions produced by the entire UK.
According to analysis by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) in the US, the impact of the top 13 firms on the climate crisis is increasing, with emissions jumping by 11% in the two years following the 2015 Paris climate accord.
In 2017, the CO2-equivalent emissions from big dairy companies totalled 338m - a 36m tonne increase from 2015. The annual emissions in the UK - the sixth largest economy in the world - total around 350m tonnes.
The report also says that the burgeoning of giant dairy companies has driven the price of milk below the cost of production for the last ten years, which has required taxpayer subsidies to prop up farmers, and has subsequently caused problems for those living in rural areas.
“Unlike growing public scrutiny on fossil fuel companies, little public pressure exists to hold global meat and dairy corporations accountable for their emissions,” said report author Shefali Sharma, European director at IATP. “Few of these companies are even reporting their emissions.”
“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,” said Sharma. “Rural livelihoods and our planet’s future depend on it.”
Four out of five dairy farms have closed in the EU between 1981 and 2013, with 93% of family farms having closed in the US since the 1970s.
“You have to get bigger or get out,” said Sharma. “The key argument is this industry drives overproduction and low prices, which creates demand, and it has marketing power, which creates demand.
“Demand doesn’t just happen by accident. There is growing support for supply management, a crucial policy that could address dairy’s twin crises. It prevents overproduction, balances supply and demand and stabilises prices.”
Over 90% of the emissions in the industry are produced by the cows themselves. Research has also shown that plant-based milks produce far fewer emissions than dairy milk.
Representatives for the dairy industry claim that the report was not a true reflection of the reality of the industry. Executive director of the Global Dairy Platform, Donald Moore, and president of the International Dairy Federation, Judith Bryans, made a joint statement saying that ‘the dairy sector is committed to producing nutritious foods in environmentally sound and responsible ways’.
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