Methane reduction ‘an opportunity for beef industry to be part of climate change solution’, JBS conference hears

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Getty/Anthony Lee
Image: Getty/Anthony Lee

Related tags Meat Jbs Carbon

Brazilian meat giant JBS has hit back at accusations its emissions have surged as ‘flawed’ as it hosted an event to investigate new methods to reduce methane and neutralise its effects.

A report from a coalition of groups including NGO Mighty Earth and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy stated JBS’s greenhouse gas emissions have risen by over 50% in five years.

The report, based on what the authors called “UN-approved methodology”, claimed JBS had “increased its greenhouse gas emissions by a staggering 51%” in the half-decade to 2021, from 280 million metric tonnes (mmts) to 421.6 mmts. This makes the company “responsible for greater emissions than Italy’s annual climate footprint”, or an amount equivalent to fossil fuel company Total’s emissions in 2020, the authors of the report claimed.  

JBS targets achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. A JBS spokesperson said the report used “flawed methodology and grossly extrapolated data to make misleading claims, including the use of our processing capacity to estimate our emissions”,​ adding: “While we do not agree with their methods and were not given the courtesy of contributing to, nor responding to, the report’s findings prior to publication, we have outreached to the NGO to review their findings in full in pursuit of our mutual goal.”

JBS said it welcomed the report’s “scrutiny and the opportunity to discuss how we constructively address and quantify the challenges facing our industry. Attainment of our ambitious net-zero target is our number one priority and we are concertedly working with globally recognised leaders in this area including the SBTi to benchmark, agree and audit science-based emissions reduction targets across Scope 1, 2 and 3. We have been transparent about the timelines required to do this as we lead the transition of our industry and will be providing updates as we complete each stage of our journey.”

Methane both 'liability and opportunity'

The dispute came as JBS hosted a forum in Sao Paulo last week to discuss the impact of livestock on GHG emissions and assess the latest mitigation techniques and metrics.

Methane is “not just a liability”,​ but “an opportunity​”, University of California, Davis, professor and air quality specialist Dr Frank Mitloehner told the event.

“Methane does matter, and methane is a potent greenhouse gas that we seek to reduce,”​ Dr Mitloehner said. “But it’s important to account for all its properties in order to understand that methane is not just a liability, it is an opportunity. Methane is pretty much energy, methane can be burned, methane can be made into power and into fuels.”

The livestock industry is cutting methane from the atmosphere and reducing warming through the use of feed additives; by making ruminants more productive; and by integrating livestock and crop management systems in order to sequester carbon in its natural sinks such as forests, grasslands and soil, Peer Ederer, Program & Science Director at Global Food & Agribusiness Network, told FoodNavigator. “I’m very convinced that animals are a very big part of the solution to many agricultural practices today that are non-circulatory.”​ 

He warned there are no silver bullets though. Solutions are “going to made up of a portfolio of many different small things adding up together to get to climate neutrality,"​ he said.  “There is an enormous amount of variation in the field and therefore even that portfolio recipe of all the different things is not going to be the same recipe that we apply everywhere.”

He stressed no more land is needed to increase food production to meet demand from growing global population. The driver for land use conversion is not “big companies wanting to produce more food”, ​he stressed, but those impoverished slash and burn farmers not part of the formal agricultural system who find they have no other choice but to exploit common short-term resources.

JBS, for example, claims it is working to close the gaps in its supply chain visibility to stamp out malpractice across the suppliers of its suppliers and provide resources on the ground to help local communities to tackle these scourges.

“The mood at the event is that are serious problems and they need to be addressed,”​ added Dr Ederer. “But we can and will address them. I think the spirit at the conference was: as an industry we have actually a good story to tell. and we need to find a way to create our narrative of how we as an industry are contributing to solving many of the planetary problems.” 

“We know that by far the biggest contributor to warming the environment is the fossil fuel industry – it is the 800-pound gorilla,”​ Dr Mitloehner said during his address. 

“We need to commit to doing our part in animal agriculture to reduce methane, but let’s make sure we frame things correctly.

“The fossil fuel industry can’t do what agriculture does, it can’t sequester carbon in its soils and it doesn’t have meaningful ways to reduce emissions. Animal agriculture is part of the climate solution.”

Addressing the Methane Forum, Gilberto Tomazoni, JBS CEO said: “This event reflects the need to generate knowledge, discussion and debate, and to look at best practice to reduce methane emissions. As a company we don’t hold all the answers to meet our Net Zero 2040 ambition but we are committed to find them. Science can provide some of the answers as we work to ensure a more sustainable planet for us and the next generation. We take our company’s role in society seriously, we are part of society, so we are here to learn.”​  

Related topics Business Sustainability Food tech Meat

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