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Top 20 meat and dairy company emissions up over 3%

© Shutterstock / Ground PictureA row of dairy cows chow down on their feed.

New research from the $70 trillion-backed FAIRR investor network reveals that annual emissions from 20 of the world’s largest meat and dairy companies have increased by 3.28%. This is despite awareness that emissions must fall 7% annually to meet climate goals.

  • The 20 largest meat and dairy firms grew emissions by over 3%, despite a need to cut annual emissions by around 7-8% to achieve the net zero Paris goal. Livestock alone is estimated to be responsible for around 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Investors have praised improving levels of disclosure, however, with 40% of the 20 largest meat and dairy firms now reporting Scope 3 emissions.
  • The agriculture and food sector is set for massive disruption, following the impact of the net zero transition on energy. Companies need to start taking action now.

These top 20 meat and dairy firms (worth a combined $295 billion) include Hormel Foods (NASDAQ: HRL) and New Hope Liuhe (China), suppliers to Walmart (NYSE: WMT) and McDonald’s (NYSE: MCD) respectively. The data comes from the sixth annual FAIRR Protein Producer Index which assesses 60 of the largest listed global meat, dairy and aquaculture companies on ten ESG factors.

The 3% rise comes from comparing year-on-year emissions data and shows a failure to engage with the need to cut emissions. In 2019, the UN calculated that the world needed to see emissions reductions of around 7.6% annually to keep on track with the Paris limit of 1.5°C temperature increase. Given that such temperatures are already being reported, and that extreme weather continues to drive major supply chain risk, it is unfathomable that companies are failing to wake up to their need to act, rapidly, decisively and effectively.

Investors have called for more focus on the food sector at the upcoming COP28 summit. According to the IPCC’s 2022 Climate Change Report, global emissions must peak by 2025 and halve by 2030 to avoid over 1.5°C of global warming – and FAIRR’s analysis suggests the meat and dairy sector is not playing its part.

In fact, Oshni Arachchi, head of active ownership at Danske Bank, said: “The agriculture sector is not only essential for food production, it uses around half of the world’s habitable land and, if not carefully managed, can drive deforestation, biodiversity loss and greenhouse gas emissions. A significant portion of those emissions and the majority of deforestation globally comes from the meat and dairy sector and FAIRR’s research underlines the urgency with which the livestock producers should act to transition to more sustainable production.”

“We welcome increasing transparency in the sector, but with time running out to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement we also need to see sector-wide action.”

Where is the meat and dairy industry failing?

In the very first instance, it appears that the majority of meat and dairy firms are failing to even develop strategies in line with the science to address emissions. FAIRR found that just 4 of the 20 firms have net zero targets approved by the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi).

Jeremy Coller, chair and founder of the $70 trillion-backed FAIRR network, said: “The failure of leading meat and dairy companies to reduce emissions underlines the urgent need for more policy focus on the food and agriculture sector. 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% of methane. Investors hope the first-ever publication of a food and agriculture roadmap at COP28 this month will catalyse the transition to 1.5 degrees and a more sustainable food system.”

On a more positive note, some of the 20 firms saw disclosed emissions fall this year, including Tyson Foods (NYSE: TSN) and Danone (Paris: BN), but progress was negated by rises from other meat and dairy giants.

There was however an increasing focus on best practices in some areas. Danone is among the first companies to set FLAG (Forest, Land and Agriculture) targets aligned with SBTi, and has committed to a 30% reduction in its methane emissions from fresh milk by 2030. This aligns its efforts with the Global Methane Pledge. The company has also developed several cutting-edge initiatives, including projects in herd management, feed fundamentals and manure management.

On disclosure, 40% of the 20 companies now publicly report Scope 3 emissions, (such as emissions from the supply chain such as those from animal feed production), with US-operating Tyson Foods and WH Group (owners of Smithfield Foods) disclosing all scopes for the first time this year.

Thalia Vounaki, senior manager research & engagements at FAIRR Initiative, said: “It’s 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. There is a long way to go however, with 60% of the 20 largest meat and dairy firms still not disclosing scope 3 and three producers offering no emissions disclosure at all. 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.”

The data comes from the release of the sixth annual Coller FAIRR Protein Producer Index which assesses a total of 60 publicly-listed animal protein producers worth a combined $364 billion (as of 1 March 2023) against ten environmental, social and governance (ESG)-related factors. It is a tool used extensively by FAIRR investor members who manage over $70 trillion of assets.


There is growing understanding of the critical role that the agriculture system plays, not just in terms of global food supply, but in the management of GHG emissions and approaches to the management of the destruction of nature through deforestation and more.

While the analysis from FAIRR reporting increased emissions is a concern, it is also likely that those companies that continue to operate in this way are going to increase their risk in terms of reputation, litigation and compliance measures. While discussion of the Agriculture Roadmap launched at COP27 has been watered down to some extent, COP28 should give us a clearer idea of the direction of travel in terms of investor and government action. It will be interesting to watch how the sector responds.

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