Meatpacker JBS comes under fire over 50% emissions rise

The carbon emissions of JBS, the world’s largest meatpacking company, soared more than 50 per cent in the past five years, according to new research that lays bare the challenge of reducing greenhouse gases in the global food industry.

The study by several environmental groups suggested that the São Paulo-headquartered company released 421.6mn metric tonnes of carbon in 2021, a larger footprint than all of Italy and almost as large as that of the UK.

JBS — which has pledged to reduce emissions to net zero by 2040 — denied the accuracy of the numbers, saying the report used “flawed methodology and grossly extrapolated data to make misleading claims”. JBS did not provide its own official numbers for last year.

“Attainment of our ambitious net zero target is our number one priority . . . We have been transparent about the timelines required to do this,” the company said.

The calculations by the Minnesota-headquartered Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy advocacy group used a modelling framework developed by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and included so-called Scope 3 emissions, in this case the emissions from the increasing number of animals in the company’s global supply chain.

By processing 26.8mn cattle, 46.7mn pigs and 4.9bn chickens, JBS increased its annual emissions last year to 421.6mn metric tonnes, up from 280mn metric tonnes in 2016, according to the study which was done in conjunction with environmental group Feedback and investigative website DeSmog.

“JBS’s ‘net zero’ plan is heavy on rhetoric and light on detail, conveniently ignoring the company’s principal source of emissions: the increasing number of animals in its global supply chain,” the groups said. “The number of animals in JBS’s supply chain in the past five years has increased substantially, resulting in the enormous increase in emissions.”

Shefali Sharma, director of IATP Europe, said: “They can say that we massively overcalculated the number of animals but they should provide evidence of what their numbers are and these should be in the public domain. Personally I feel like we have a conservative estimate.”

The report will be a blow to the meatpacking group, which has attempted to shed its image as an environmental villain.

For years, the company was accused of fuelling deforestation in the Amazon rainforest by allowing cattle raised on deforested lands to enter its supply chain. In the past two years, it has sought to overhaul its reputation by setting a number of environmental targets, including the net zero goal.

Many believe this process was spurred by the growing threat of divestment from European investors and a product of boycotts from the supermarkets such as Tesco and Carrefour.

The company said in 2020 its total emissions were 6.8mn metric tonnes but acknowledged that this figure excluded gases from animals in the supply chain. It added that Scope 3 emissions would be factored into its calculations in its report for 2021, but did not say when this would be released.

Matthew Hayek, a professor of environmental science at New York University, said IATP has a “good record of calculating these emissions accurately”.

“[Their] model does a good job of accurately capturing most of the supply chain impacts that they’re describing here as Scope 3. Emissions from animals certainly should be considered a part of any agrifood company’s supply chain.”

Additional reporting by Carolina Ingizza

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