The connection between deforestation-related emissions and agricultural expansion is well documented. According to the Climate Land Use Alliance, commercial agriculture drives 71% of tropical deforestation. The continued industrialization of four commodities in particular––palm oil, pulp and paper, soy, and beef––pose serious risks to our global forests and climate.
Understanding these connections, RAN has taken on various sectors at the intersection of agriculture, deforestation and climate change. RAN was one of the first US-based organizations to make the connection between the destruction of rainforests and grazing land for beef cattle in the early 1980s. One of RAN’s first achievements was pressuring Burger King to cancel $35 million worth of Central American beef contracts because they were converting rainforests into “rainforest beef” cattle ranches.
Fast forward 20 years, and in 2007 we launched a campaign targeting the three biggest agribusiness giants for their irresponsible palm oil and soy operations––Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Bunge and Cargill. A couple years later we zeroed in on Cargill for its role in trafficking Conflict Palm Oil––palm oil that is produced under conditions associated with the ongoing destruction of rainforests, expansion on carbon-rich peatlands, and human rights violations. Five years later the agriculture giant committed to zero deforestation across its entire global supply chain, for all of its agricultural commodities.
This commitment is the most far-reaching zero deforestation pledge ever established, covering Cargill’s sprawling global empire of businesses, including palm oil, sugar, soy, cattle, and cocoa. RAN remains cautiously optimistic and continues to engage with Cargill as it moves forward in translating this pledge into effective policies––and to then implement these reforms within Cargill’s daily operations in order to bring this pledge to life.
Since 2013 we’ve had our sights on the snack food sector, targeting the Snack Food 20––which includes many of the largest snack food companies in the world––to get Conflict Palm Oil out of our food supply. More than half of these companies have adopted responsible palm oil commitments already.
Today, just four commodity traders, ADM, Bunge, Cargill and Louis Dreyfus, control the majority of the global agricultural trade for commodities such as corn, wheat, soy, palm oil, canola oil, and beef. These companies control our food system at every step of the supply chain, from land conversion to food prices on the grocery store shelf. They provide seeds and fertilizer to growers, buy land for commodity crop production, raise animals for meat, operate shipping and storage facilities, and process raw materials into products like cooking oil, biofuels, animal feed, as well as beef and pork. As the largest privately owned company in America, Cargill and its big meat business is of particular concern to the food supply.
RAN is already invested in stopping the conversion of forests into industrial food operations via our two Forest Program campaigns challenging the key drivers of deforestation in Indonesia: palm oil and pulp and paper. By broadening the scope of our work on palm oil to incorporate the impacts of our food system, with an emphasis on industrial meat production, we can challenge other key drivers of rainforest destruction. This will deepen our work holding industrial agribusiness accountable for its negative impacts on rainforests, forest dependent communities and the climate.
RAN is continuing to explore the intersection of agribusiness, global warming and other urgent environmental challenges like forest loss to identify where there is leverage to drive large-scale systemic change. As a corporate campaigning organization we are interested in the industrial meat sector because some of the biggest corporations in the world are investing in animal agriculture. It’s one of the most powerful, profitable sectors on the globe, controlled by four key industries that are responsible for some of the most severe negative environmental impacts of our time:
Pharmaceutical industry: Eli Lilly, a US based corporation, is a central player in the global pharmaceutical industry with popular people-prescription drug lines like Prozac, but it also has a line of drugs for the livestock industry. It includes antibiotics, parasiticides, and anticoccidials, all of which fight infections in animal intestines. The use of these drugs is the sole reason thousands of animals are able to survive living in the crowded, unhealthy confinement of factory farms. Eli Lilly and Bayer are among the largest producers of the antibiotics and growth hormones (which speeds the animals’ growth) that industrial meat production relies on. Both have a significant financial interest in the continued expansion of industrial-scale animal production globally.
Agrochemical industry: DuPont, Monsanto, PotashCorp, Syngenta Crop Protection, and Pioneer Hi-Bred International are the major players in the market for agricultural chemicals and fertilizers that industrial meat producers rely on to protect against pests on monoculture animal feed crops like soy and corn. They are cultivated in vast monocultures that rely on a heavy dose of fertilizers and herbicides. The US, Brazil, and China are world leaders in commercially produced animal feed, and are also some of the largest producers of genetically modified (GMO) crops. Fertilizer––particularly nitrogen––is among the biggest global greenhouse gas contributors from agriculture.
Feed industry: Global ag giants Cargill and ADM and genetically-modified food (GMO) beast Monsanto produce or buy the majority of feed that keep industrial meat facilities running. Monsanto controls approximately 39% of the market for all corn seed, a staple feed crop for US livestock, and its GMO corn, cotton, canola, and soybeans grow on 90 percent of the global agricultural land that’s planted with genetically modified crops (and this acreage is rapidly expanding). It’s also one of the sole suppliers of rBGH, the controversial synthetic growth hormone used to boost cows’ productivity in US factory dairy farms and globally, but that’s banned in the EU.
Oil industry: The industrial meat complex and the fossil fuel industry heavily profit from one another’s existence. From the energy needed to operate slaughterhouses and for global shipping routes to the petroleum-based chemicals used in feed production, factory farmed steak, chicken and pork are an oil man’s ally.
Meat industry: A disturbingly small number of companies control the U.S. meat market (and international markets, too). They are all global players operating in multiple sectors and multiple countries, including: JBS USA, Cargill, Tyson Foods, and Shuanghui/Smithfield. Meat production is increasingly becoming a center of global agribusiness.
Given the global influence of this handful of corporate players and the fact that industrial meat production is at the intersection of four industries wreaking havoc on people and planet, it’s critical that we explore opportunities to transform the system of industrial meat production now.
Our Failing Food System: Key Drivers of Climate Destruction
Today, the majority of farming in the United States is dominated by industrial agriculture—the system of chemically intensive food production developed post World War II. This is a system of enormous monoculture farms––the practice of growing single crops intensively on a very large scale––and industrial animal production facilities which prioritize profit and efficiency over health and animal welfare.
Globally, the situation is becoming all too similar.
The chemical-dependent model of US industrial agriculture that prioritizes profit above all else, which many parts of the world have adopted, is an enormous threat to the planet. The system of agriculture feeding our food supply relies on fossil fuel inputs and is controlled by a handful of multinational corporations. It relies heavily on a few crops, rather than fostering the essential diversity our planet offers us. Our industrial food system is driving increased levels of corporate control, high levels of food waste, deforestation, soil erosion, and climate change, and is dominated by animal production. In fact, approximately 30% of all land and 75% of agricultural land is devoted to the production of livestock or animal feed according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
Some of the most severe impacts of this failing system on our fragile planet include: runaway climate change, forest loss and fragmentation, water scarcity and water pollution, loss of biodiversity in both genetic diversity of crops and threatened extinction of key species, and soil degradation including soil acidification due to overuse of chemical fertilizers.
Altogether, our industrial system of agriculture is driving a whopping one third of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, largely from tropical deforestation (draining and burning peatlands which store vast amounts of carbon dioxide as well as clearing ancient forests which house huge amounts of carbon dioxide) and methane emissions. This encompasses emissions from the entire food sector––for example manufacturing processed foods, energy used for home and institutional preparation, packaging, refrigeration, food waste, and animal agriculture and feed.
The livestock sector is the single largest source of food-related emissions. Livestock release methane as part of their digestive process, but skyrocketing levels of methane emissions are primarily from the factory farm model where many animals are in confined buildings producing enormous amounts of manure that end up in lagoons (contrast this with grazing, which results in lower emissions than factory farms and can be beneficial for soil and carbon sequestration). These methane emissions are the source of nearly two-thirds of global agricultural emissions, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
According to the UN-REDD Programme, deforestation and forest degradation, through agricultural expansion, conversion to pastureland, infrastructure development, and forest fires, account for nearly 20% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, more than the entire global transportation sector and second only to the energy sector.
The risks associated with climate change imperil human civilization and the rest of life on earth in extraordinary ways. The global scientific consensus is that we must significantly reduce GHG emissions by 2020 at the latest or we may no longer be able to avert climate catastrophe. Specifically, our challenge is to keep carbon at the 350 parts per million threshold to avoid a 2 degree Celsius rise in global temperature. Given that agriculture is responsible for a full third of GHG emissions, we don’t stand a chance of doing this unless we make large-scale shifts in the food and agriculture sectors.
Industrial Animal Agriculture
We can transform the global food system by addressing one sector in particular that encompasses a massive climate “foodprint:” industrial meat production.
There may be no other single human activity that has a bigger impact on the planet than the raising of livestock, reports Time Magazine.
The demand for animal-based foods has soared in recent decades. Average meat consumption in America is over 322 grams (.71 lbs) per person per day, compared to the global average of 115 grams (.25 lbs) per capita a day. China consumes 160 grams (.35 lbs) per day, India only 12 grams (.03 lbs) per day. One of the fastest growing meat consuming regions is Asia, particularly China. Unfortunately, to meet these growing needs, China like India is looking to the US model of factory farming.
By 2050, global meat consumption is expected to rise 76% and dairy 65% from 2005 levels. In terms of food sector drivers of climate-warming GHG emissions, it’s essential we pay close attention to the meat and dairy industries due to the predicted growth of production and consumption in key markets such as Brazil, India and China. Today’s numbers already illustrate that these industries are responsible for a huge percentage of emissions, but with skyrocketing growth in some of the countries with the biggest populations and fastest developing middle classes, fast economic growth, rapid urbanization and increased involvement in the global trade in meat and feed, we must be a watchdog for the expansion of industrial meat production globally.
If the entire world ate US levels of meat, which hovers above 200 lbs a year, it would mean a projected 320% increase  in animal products and the cropland needed would be at least double what we use today. We simply don’t have enough land available to meet the demands of the global embedding of the US diet. Average global estimates suggest that, per unit of protein, GHG emissions from beef production are around 150 times those of soy products, by volume, and even the least emissions-intensive meat products—pork and chicken—produce 20–25 times more GHGs than plant-based foods. While there is of course huge variability farm-to-farm and product-to-product, on average poultry production tends to be less GHG-intensive than beef.
According to the latest research from the journal Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development, if left unchecked, worldwide meat consumption and production will continue exacerbating species loss, climate risks, food insecurity, and severe human rights abuses as large meat-producing companies continue to displace family farmers. Livestock production is the single largest driver of habitat loss, and both livestock and feedstock production are increasing in developing tropical countries where the majority of biological diversity resides.
Studies by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which has global responsibility for assuring the science of climate change and its impacts is accurate, have shown that there’s a strong correlation between the production, and consumption, of animal-based foods and climate change.
The livestock sector is responsible for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions – largely from methane linked to animal digestion, deforestation, manure management, and the vast amounts of synthetic fertilizers required to feed livestock housed in highly concentrated operations.
So, although the scientific evidence is clear that we can’t solve the climate crisis without decreasing our consumption of meat, by itself meat consumption will not solve the scale of this problem. It’s essential that we also pressure multinational corporations to reduce their environmental harm. For, at the root of the problem is an industrial system, driven by some of the biggest corporations in the world, pushing a carbon- and resource-intensive agricultural model.
Although industrial agriculture has led to reduced prices for many of the products we rely on, it has also helped turn a food that was an occasional meal—meat—into an affordable, every-day consumption habit for many. However, the true costs of industrial agriculture, and specifically “cheap meat,” have become increasingly evident. Today, the industrial meat sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems.
RAN challenges corporate practices that threaten our forests and our climate, works to protect the rights of forest-dependent communities, and promotes forward thinking strategies to preserve our planet. We believe that the most effective way to tackle the climate crisis is to find systemic solutions that address the root causes, namely the profit-driven agendas of multinational corporations that are wreaking havoc on our food system, the health of our communities, and the health of our planet.
However, we can’t ignore the science behind climate change and must come to terms with the fact that we need to reduce meat consumption along with instituting production reforms. The United Nations Environmental Programme concludes that “many benefits would accrue from lower [meat] consumption rates in many developed and some developing countries. At the same time, reduced meat production would ease both pressures on the remaining natural environment (i.e. less new land clearance for livestock) and on [the most climate-polluting] atmospheric emissions.”
Indeed, a diet higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and lower in calories and animal-based foods, is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet – and the diet that’s becoming increasingly common around the world.
A glimpse of some of the most severe ways animal agriculture is harming our planet
A growing number of recent studies including the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s most recent report show that to stop global temperatures from rising beyond the dangerous 2 degree Celsius level of climate change, we must shift meat production practices and decrease the current upward trend of meat consumption. The raising and feeding of livestock produces about 14.5% (7.1 GtCO2 eq) of global greenhouse gas emissions. According to the 2012 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report, emissions from livestock constitute nearly 80% of all agricultural emissions.
In a time of record water scarcity across the globe, including a severe drought in the state of California, meat contributes 37% to the food-related water footprint of an average American. Animal agriculture is responsible for 20-33% of all freshwater consumption in the world today according to a 2012 report by global research authorities on water, Mekkonen and Hoekstra.
We divert about half of the world’s grain and most soy protein into feed for livestock and nonfood uses. 30% of all crops raised on the planet are fed directly to livestock. If current crop production used for animal feed and other nonfood uses (including biofuels) were targeted for direct consumption, some 70% more calories would become available, potentially providing enough calories to meet the basic needs of an additional 4 billion people. That is significant given the projected population growth rate of 10 billion people by 2050 and existing food security concerns.
The leading causes of rainforest destruction are livestock and feed crops. Livestock are linked to between 70-80% of historic deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon.  According to a Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) study, more than 91% of these deforested lands are used for cattle pasture, and agriculture land to produce grains for animal feed.
Due to the USDA’s failure to regulate genetically engineered (GE) crops and the increasing use of pesticides needed to grow them, recent studies have documented a dramatic decline in pollinators and soil fertility, and transgenic contamination is skyrocketing. In 2013 the European Commission (EC) imposed a two-year ban on a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, now the world’s most widely used type of insecticide. In the U.S., neonicotinoids are currently used on about 95% of corn and canola crops, the majority of cotton, sorghum, and sugar beets, about half of all soybeans, and on the vast majority of fruit and vegetable crops.
Chemical companies pushing the herbicide 2,4-Dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (usually referred to as 2,4-D) resistant crops as a quick fix to the epidemic of glyphosate-resistant weeds are making matters worse. 2,4-D is one of the ingredients in the notorious “agent orange” used by the US military to spray and defoliate large areas of Vietnam, and linked to major public health impacts, both on Vietnamese civilians and US soldiers handling the chemicals.
 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, “Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use,” October 4, 2014. Data available for analysis at http://faostat3.fao.org/download/G1/*/E.
 FAO, 2012: Alexandros, N., Bruinsma, J., Bodeker, G., Broca, S., & Ottaviani, M. (2012). World agriculture towards 2030/2050: the 2012 revision. Rome, Italy: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
 Sutton, M. A., Bleeker, A., Howard, C. M., Bekunda, M., Grizzetti, B., Vries, W. D., … & Zhang, F. S. (2013). Our Nutrient World: the challenge to produce more food and energy with less pollution. Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH).
 Kastner, T., Rivas, M. J. I., Koch, W., & Nonhebel, S. (2012). Global changes in diets and the consequences for land requirements for food. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(18), 6868–6872. doi:10.1073/pnas.1117054109
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 João Meirelles: http://www.academia.edu/2135137/Specialty_of_the_Day_Delicious_500gms_of_Amazonian_Beef_Steak_produced_by_7.000_grams_of_carbon_dioxide_7.000_litres_of_water_mixed_with_belched_methane_is_the_ideal_recipe_for_climate_change