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Big Food's Big Climate Cost

Despite growing demand, only about 5 percent of milk sold in the United States comes from organic farms. (Oregon State University/FlickR)
Despite growing demand, only about 5 percent of milk sold in the United States comes from organic farms. (Oregon State University/FlickR)
November 20, 2017

MINNEAPOLIS — The five biggest meat and dairy companies emit more greenhouse gases than do Exxon, Shell or British Petroleum, according to a new report. And if the meat and dairy industries continue as they are, it says, the Paris Climate Accord will be moot and a climate catastrophe inevitable.

The new report is the first to quantify greenhouse gas emissions from the five biggest meat and dairy companies - all of which are global.

The Minneapolis-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy is one of the authors of the report. IATP's Climate Change director, Ben Lilliston, said the problem is systemic: the way animals are raised, processed and distributed.

"We're not blaming farmers. Farmers and producers are caught in a much larger system,” Lilliston said. "It really is the companies' responsibility to shift the way that they raise animals and the way they work with farmers and raising animals."

The industry says production is designed to keep food affordable. But Lilliston said policymakers must figure out how to reward food producers who keep climate change in mind.

Consumers can help too, by buying food from sustainable sources.

Lilliston said dairy especially has undergone massive change in recent decades.

"It's a shift from sort of a pasture-based way of raising dairy cows or having sort of a mix, to really having them confined - whether it's a feedlot in the California model or a more indoor, confined operation here in the upper Midwest,” he said.

The report names the companies behind the emissions. They are Brazil-based JBS Meat, Minnesota-based Cargill Dairy Farmers of America, Tyson Foods and New Zealand-based Fonterra Group.

Laurie Stern, Public News Service - MN