GRAIN, a non-profit organization, collaborated with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and the Heinrich Böll Foundation to estimate the greenhouse emissions of meat and dairy corporations, a figure that few companies calculate or publish.
The study was published as meat and dairy industry representatives arrived in Bonn, Germany for the COP23 to emphasize their role in food security.
In stark terms the study warns that if unchecked, the world's top meat and dairy producers' greenhouse emissions "could lead us to a point of no return."
Projections showing business-as-usual meat and dairy greenhouse emissions.GRAIN
Through lobbying, major meat and dairy companies have promoted policies that have led to increased production and consumption around the world. Livestock production now contributes 15 percent of global greenhouse emissions, more than the transportation sector, according to the study.
If livestock production continues to grow at the rates estimated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, greenhouse emissions from the meat and dairy industries will undercut attempts to keep global average temperatures below 2°C.
The paper's authors warned that industry representatives will arrive at the COP23 in Bonn pushing their agenda—the expansion of livestock production—as a solution. This will amount to criticism of small-scale farmers, which is where the solution in cutting greenhouse emissions lies, according to the authors of the study.
Rather than continuing to subsidize factory farming and agribusiness that undercuts millions of small farmers, governments should redirect public money to support "small-scale agroecological" farms, the study suggests.
Graph showing the top 20 meat and dairy companies' greenhouse emissions.GRAIN
Three out the world's five biggest meat and dairy greenhouse gas emitters are U.S.-based companies.
A previous study showed beef, when compared to staples like potatoes, wheat and rice, has a per calorie impact that requires 160 times more land and produces 11 times more greenhouse gases.
Another study published in Environmental Research Letters calculated that a 50 percent reduction in mean per capita meat consumption in the developed world is needed by 2050 to meet global greenhouse gas emissions targets.
By Shana Gallagher
What comes to mind when you think of Tyson Foods? A chicken nugget? A big red logo?
How about the largest toxic dead zone in U.S. history? It turns out the meat industry—and corporate giants like Tyson Foods—are directly linked to this environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, and many others.
Industrial-scale agriculture to support America's livestock is the number one source of water pollution in the country. But while industrial agriculture to feed animals raised for meat is currently resource-intensive and ecologically destructive, it doesn't have to be. Solutions exist which, if adopted, would allow the meat industry and agricultural corporations that sustain it to reduce their impact on water and the planet.
That's why Mighty Earth has launched the Clean It Up, Tyson campaign in order to hold this industry accountable to our communities and the environment. Corporations can and should respect the health and well-being of their customers, and the landscapes that allow them to profit. Considering America's current political climate, and the increasing severity of environmental problems across the globe, collective action and corporate-targeted campaigns like this one have never been more urgent.
Soil erosion and agricultural run-off is currently America's top source of water pollution.Mighty Earth
In a country with five times as many livestock animals as humans, it takes a lot of land to grow feed for the meat that ends up on consumers' plates. More than a third of America's agricultural land is dedicated towards the production of corn and soy, but humans consume less than 10 percent of this, according to Mighty Earth's campaign report. The vast majority is consumed by livestock.
What many people don't realize is that this livestock feed production is controlled by a very small number of large and powerful corporations, making huge upstream profits, but creating massive downstream pollution. These companies—ADM, Bunge, Cargill (often referred to as the ABCs)—don't have much of a public reputation, as they don't sell directly to individual consumers. Under our current regulatory system, they're also not responsible for their run-off or excess fertilizer use, both of which are classified as "non-point source" pollution. In other words, soil erosion and run-off from enormous swaths of America's crop fields are washing into the waterways, and taxpayers shoulder the burden. These two factors mean that industrial agriculture companies operate with impunity while polluting the land, rivers and oceans.
How animal feed moves through the meat supply chainMighty Earth
A recent report by Environmental Working Group found that more than 200 million Americans—more than half of the people in our country—are exposed to contaminated drinking water due to fertilizer pollution. The estimated clean water costs to taxpayers are more than $2 billion per year. The nitrate and phosphorous in fertilizer that leaches into our drinking water are associated with various types of cancers, birth defects and other health problems. This burden disproportionately falls on rural communities, whose water treatment systems were not built to deal with the levels of chemicals they're now facing.
"The EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) ordered Pretty Prairie, Kansas, to build a new water treatment plant last year to lower nitrate levels that could cost $2.4 million—well over $3,000 for every person in town," EWG reported. "Eighty-five percent or more of the communities with elevated levels of nitrate have no treatment systems in place to remove the contaminant."
Another alarming characteristic of industrial agriculture is that because it's so intensive, fields are quickly exhausted, and the industry must continuously expand to new areas. For this reason, the American prairie and grassland ecosystems are being altered faster than the Amazon rainforest.
A recent University of Wisconsin study estimated that this loss of natural grassland "could have emitted as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as 34 coal-fired power plants operating for one year—the equivalent of 28 million more cars on the road," noted Mighty Earth. These unique landscapes are among the most threatened in the world, and are irreversibly damaged after conversion into crop fields, often to grow corn and soy. At a time in our country when public lands are being attacked from many angles, industrial-scale agriculture to support the meat industry is the biggest challenge these ecosystems face.
Polluted run-off from manure and chemical fertilizer causes toxic algae outbreaks in lakes and rivers across the country, contaminating drinking water, killing marine life and endangering public health.Mighty Earth
Luckily, there are a number of simple, cheap and effective ways in which the meat industry could adopt sustainability measures into supply chains to and protect clean water. For example, currently less than 30 percent of fertilizer applied to massive industrial-scale crop fields is actually absorbed by the plants. Instead, most of this washes off as fertilizer pollution and contaminates waterways.
This is what has caused the largest dead zone in U.S. history in the Gulf of Mexico. It is currently more than 8,000 square miles, where no marine life can survive due to toxic fertilizer pollution. By using more precise application methods, farmers could save money on fertilizer, and less of it would contaminate the water. Additionally, techniques like using cover crops, diversifying crops beyond corn and soy, and limiting tillage are proven ways to reduce soil erosion.
A farmer sprays liquid urea ammonium nitrate fertilizer to pre-emergent crops. P177 / Flickr
A few months ago, Mighty Earth conducted a comprehensive study into which areas of America are experiencing the worst water contamination from fertilizer pollution (Figure 1), and the most dramatic land conversion into livestock feed crop fields (Figure 2). This groundbreaking research also identified the agricultural and meat industry corporations most present in these areas. The clear culprit driving these destructive agricultural impacts was identified: Tyson Foods.
The country's largest meat company, the second largest globally and the pioneer of the industrial meat system, Tyson Foods produces one in every five pounds of meat: more than 20 percent of all chicken, beef and pork. They are therefore uniquely placed to drive solutions, incentivize their suppliers to farm more responsibly, and reduce the catastrophic effects that industrial-scale agriculture has on the environment and public health.
Figure 1. Nitrate levels by watershed, 2016 overlaid with Tyson and top feed supplier facilitiesMighty Earth
Figure 2: Grassland conversion by county, 2016 overlaid with Tyson and top feed supplier facilitiesMighty Earth
"Recent commitments from a growing number of food companies like Kellogg's, General Mills, Walmart, PepsiCo, and even Tyson's competitor, Smithfield, are showing the way forward," reported Mighty Earth. "These companies have committed to improve fertilizer and soil-health practices in their U.S. crop supply chains and have launched programs and practices that Tyson and other meat producers can adopt to drive improvements in their supply chains."
Tyson Foods has the power to make these changes too, and therefore to change the entire meat industry for the better—and we have the power to ask them to do it.
Tyson's prior commitments to sustainability are admirable, but don't go far enough. With the demand for meat rising, and the threats to our environment increasing, the stakes could not be higher.
This issue affects all of us. As far back as 2013, the majority of American waterways were contaminated by fertilizer pollution, according to the EPA. That's why Mighty Earth is organizing in communities across the country to ask Tyson to protect our water and our environment. By signing the petition or making a call to Tyson's corporate headquarters (you can use our calling script for pointers), you can add your voice to the rising chorus calling for cleaner meat. Tyson Foods must lead the way to a more sustainable food system and protect the one planet we have.
Shana Gallagher is one of seven organizers around the U.S. launching Mighty Earth's #CleanItUpTyson campaign.
Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
Scientists predict that so much pollution is pouring into the Gulf of Mexico this year that it is creating a larger-than-ever "dead zone" in which low to no oxygen can suffocate or kill fish and other marine life.
The Guardian reported that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is expected to announce this week the largest recorded hypoxic zone in the gulf, an oxygen-depleted swath that's even larger than the New Jersey-sized, 8,185 square-mile dead zone originally predicted for July.
When fertilizer and manure washes off soy and corn fields used to grow feed for livestock, it not only contaminates local drinking water supplies, it flows into larger water bodies and creates toxic algal blooms from the excessive nutrients, particularly phosphorus and nitrogen. When the algae dies and decomposes, it depletes the waters of oxygen and eventually leads to vast dead zones that is toxic to aquatic life.
"While fertilizer pollution starts in the Midwest, it flows down the Mississippi River until it finally dumps out into the Gulf of Mexico, which collapses into one of the world's largest Dead Zones each year as a direct result," the report states.
"Approximately 1.15 million metric tons of nitrogen pollution flowed into the Gulf of Mexico in 2016 alone, which is around 170 percent more pollution than was dumped into the Gulf by the BP oil spill."
Mighty is calling on Big Meat—particularly Tyson Foods, the largest meat company in the U.S.—to urge their grain producers such as Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland to take steps to reduce and prevent runoff pollution.
"This problem is worsening and worsening and regulation isn't reducing the scope of this pollution," Lucia von Reusner, campaign director at Mighty, told the Guardian. "These companies' practices need to be far more sustainable. And a reduction in meat consumption is absolutely necessary to reduce the environmental burden."