Hello from my new virtual home at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), where I am now a senior advisor on the Future of Food. I can't tell you how excited I am to join IATP. I've collaborated with them for years on everything from NAFTA to the food crisis, U.S. agricultural dumping to industrial livestock. You can see the range of issues I'll be working on with IATP on the web portal they created for my work. I talked about this with IATP Program Director Karen Hansen-Kuhn in a short Facebook Live chat.
That's why I'm excited to share IATP's new report with you, Milking the Planet: How Big Dairy is heating up the planet and hollowing rural communities, the product of a long-running research project on corporate consolidation in global livestock and its impacts on climate change.
Released last week, IATP's latest report reveals that the total combined greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of the world’s largest 13 dairy corporations rose by 11% in just two years (2015-2017).
As the global dairy industry expands and scales up into new territories, dairying is disintegrating into larger operations controlled by a handful of big dairy processors. Simultaneously, Big Dairy’s GHG emissions are increasing, and indebtedness, farm loss and bankruptcies in rural communities are on the rise. The COVID-19 crisis has compounded the dairy crisis, further revealing the fragility of the concentrated system built by corporations.
“The biggest dairy companies in the world have the same combined greenhouse gas emissions as the UK, the sixth biggest economy in the world, according to a new report," wrote The Guardian’s Damian Carrington in June 15 coverage of the report. "More than 90% of the corporate dairy industries’ emissions are produced by the cows themselves, mostly in the form of methane."
The corporations’ increase of 32.3 million tonnes of GHGs in 2017 equated to the pollution stemming from 6.9 million passenger cars driven in one year (13.6 billion litres or 3.6 billion gallons of gasoline). The combined 2017 emissions exceeded the emissions of carbon majors BHP and ConocoPhillips, two of the top 20 fossil fuel emitters.
Increased market concentration through mergers and acquisitions has contributed to the emissions rise. The French dairy corporation Le Groupe Lactalis, for example, increased its emissions by 30%. The corporations’ combined milk intake went up by 8%.
Despite the climate crisis, zero of the 13 processors have explicitly committed to a clear and absolute reduction of emissions from their dairy supply chain. These are emissions from the animals themselves, defined as scope 3 emissions. Scope 3 emissions account for over 90% of industrialized dairy emissions.
Meanwhile, thousands of small-scale and family farms around the globe went out of business, farmers incurred mounting debt and farm incomes declined in the four major dairy producing regions: Europe, the U.S., New Zealand and India. Farmers continue to be paid below the cost of production in these regions.
“Even as industrialized countries are tasked to raise their climate ambitions, dairy corporations continue to expand in power and production while rural communities suffer. And yet, policies that offer the most promise in stopping overproduction and ensuring fair prices to producers are the same ones that can help reduce emissions. Governments can and must redirect public funds to enable farmers to dairy in a way that preserves their livelihoods and the planet,” says Shefali Sharma, director of IATP Europe and author of the report
You can read the full report here.