‘Big Livestock’ is just as damaging to the planet as the fossil fuel industry, campaigners warn, yet UK banks continue to be among the sector's largest creditors, pouring tens of billions into carbon-intensive companies fuelling deforestation
Investment firms, banks, and pension funds have spent hundreds of billions of dollars supporting "destructive" global meat and dairy companies that are failing to take adequate action on carbon emissions and deforestation, a new report has warned.
Findings published last week by UK-based campaign group Feedback reveal that between January 2015 and 30 April 2020, the world's 35 largest meat and dairy companies received more than $478bn of investment from the private sector.
Yet big meat and dairy companies are "as damaging" to our planet as the fossil fuel industry, the report warns, and the livestock sector is on track to use up more than half of the world's emissions budget for 1.5C by 2030 and 80 per cent by mid-century. The five largest companies - JBS, Tyson, Cargill, Dairy Farmers of America, and Fonterra - together emit more greenhouse gases than oil and gas giant ExxonMobil.
The report, entitled Butchering the Planet, reveals that British banks Barclays and HSBC are among the world's top five creditors to 'Big Livestock' firms, investing billions of pounds into carbon-intensive agribusinesses that produce chlorinated chicken and are alleged to fuel the deforestation of the Amazon. UK pensions, savings, and investment companies such as Prudential, Standard Life Aberdeen and Legal & General also continue to invest in the "ecologically destructive industry", the report said.
Feedback urged investors to defund and divest from industrial meat and dairy companies in order to help keep global warming at a level below 1.5C.
The group called out a disconnect between banks' and other investors' sustainability policies and commitments and their deep implication with the global livestock industry. "Banks and investors that wear with pride their commitments to end deforestation and combat climate change are deeply implicated in the financial support offered to this ecologically destructive and socially toxic industry," it said. "Barclays boast of backing UK farming, yet invest billions in destructive US agribusinesses. HSBC appear to be funding Brazilian beef linked to deforestation and forest fires, despite their own ethical investment policies forbidding them to do so."
Banks in the UK, France and US provide more than half of the credit to meet and dairy giants, totalling $91.8bn in loans and $45.9bn in underwriting over the past five years, the report notes. Yet, it warns, those same 35 livestock corporations together produce more greenhouse gases than the economies of Germany, Canada, and the UK.
And while the British public and farmers have opposed the potential introduction of chlorine-washed chicken to supermarket shelves following a post-Brexit trade deal, the report flags that UK banks have provided loans and underwriting to the tune of almost $12bn between 2015 and 2020 to US meat firms engaged in the practice.
"We have to reach peak livestock," the report warns. "Industrial meat and dairy production are incompatible with a safe, ecologically sustainable life. There is no version of industrial animal agriculture production that is compatible with climate justice and a zero carbon future."
Commenting on the report, HSBC and Barclay's stressed their respective environmental and climate commitments.
"HSBC takes our Agricultural Commodities Policy very seriously and regularly assesses its clients for commitment to sustainable business practices," an HSBC spokesperson said. "Our Agriculture Products Policy sets our minimum standards related to the impact on forests from palm oil, soy, rubberwood and cattle farming. We do not comment on client relationships, even to confirm or deny that a relationship exists."
Meanwhile, a Barclays spokesperson said: "We are a long standing supporter of the agriculture sector, with in-house specialists and many strong client relationships. We are using our expertise to support the diversification of the sector, and we have also made a firm commitment to align our entire financing portfolio to the goals of the Paris Agreement."
Feedback's report follows separate findings last month that revealed how the world's 13 biggest dairy companies have the same greenhouse gas emissions as the UK.
The analysis, published by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, notes that the meat and dairy sector saw an 11 per cent increase in emissions in the two years after the landmark Paris Climate Conference in 2015, largely due to a consolidation of the sector.
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