Researchers Claim Emissions at World’s Largest Meatpacker Rose 50% in Half a Decade

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In the world of meatpacking, there’s nothing wrong with beefing up your business. Just not like this.

The carbon footprint of Brazil’s JBS, the world’s largest meatpacking company, has grown over 50% in the past five years, according to a report released Thursday by the Minnesota-based Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. This flies in the face of the company’s plan to go net-zero on carbon emissions.

An Unpleasant Meating

In the last two years, investigations by Brazil’s Réporter Brasil, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, The Guardian, Greenpeace, and Amnesty International have connected JBS to farms in the Amazon that practice deforestation. In 2020, Northern Europe’s largest wealth manager, Nordea Asset Management, dropped JBS from its $250 billion portfolio. In December, three major European supermarket chains — Sainsbury, Carrefour, and Ahold Delhaize — said they would stop selling many Brazilian meat products as a result of their environmental record.

JBS pledged to reduce its emissions to net-zero by 2040, but this latest controversy makes that promise sound rather like the faint din of a distant cowbell. The calculations by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy use a framework developed by the UN that includes Scope 3 emissions — the indirect emissions occurring throughout a company’s supply chain. In this case, that means the emissions from a growing number of animals. Confronted with the evidence, JBS failed to offer a reaction that was convincing — or even in good faith:

  • The researchers determined that by processing 27 million cattle, 47 million pigs, and 5 billion chickens last year, JBS had increased its annual emissions to 422 million metric tons, up from 280 million metric tons in 2016.
  • JBS responded by claiming its total emissions in 2020 were a mere 6.8 million metric tons, but then acknowledged that its figures don’t account for animals in the company’s supply chain.

“Their model does a good job of accurately capturing most of the supply chain impacts that they’re describing here as Scope 3,” Matthew Hayek, an environmental science professor at NYU, told the Financial Times. “Emissions from animals certainly should be considered a part of any agrifood company’s supply chain.”

Is that Kosher? On a related note, here’s one meat company that won’t have to deal with animal emissions. Upside Foods, a private company developing lab-grown meat by cultivating animal cells in a lab, raised $400 million on Thursday. The startup said it expects to soon sell “chicken” in the US, pending regulatory approval (see what Richard Branson thought of the taste here). Rabbis, meanwhile, are debating whether lab-grown pork, which is also in development, could be considered kosher.