What is the greenwashing trick?
Feed producers and industrial meat companies argue that they are cutting methane emissions from producing meat thanks to “innovative” feed additives. Feed additives are often mixed into animal feed, and can include antibiotics, probiotics, vitamins and minerals, and specially-designed additives that reduce the amount of methane created during the process of digestion.
Livestock release methane through burps and farts because of enteric fermentation – the digestive process that ruminant animals use to break down their food. This methane already contributes to atmospheric warming, and with global livestock numbers on the rise, companies face pressure to reduce methane emissions from the animals they are turning into food.
When feeding these additives to livestock, companies may claim that they are on the way to making their meat “carbon neutral,” are producing “environmentally-friendly” meat, or may use other “green” wording to describe their products.
Most feed additives are also still in development and can’t be used at scale across the world. Companies advertising their use of feed additives may be talking up their potential emissions reductions before these additives have been proven to work.
How is this trick used?
Industrial meat producers claim that their meat products are becoming more environmentally friendly and are having less impact on the climate because they are reducing methane emissions from livestock. Big livestock companies encourage more investment to develop feed additives that will further reduce methane emissions from livestock.
Why is this bad for the climate crisis?
If meat companies use feed additives to make each animal more “efficient” and emit less methane, there may be an incentive for companies to increase their overall meat production and the number of animals they slaughter. These companies then claim that their emissions are lower per animal than in years past, and that they are making progress on their climate goals – all while continuing to emit a considerable amount of greenhouse gases.
Emissions are also not the only negative environmental impact of industrial meat production, and greater herd numbers may have other negative effects: increased deforestation to make room for grazing; more waste from larger livestock operations; and more animal feed needed to maintain larger herd sizes – demand for which often leads to monocropping.
If the global appetite for meat keeps increasing, feed additives may not help reduce the overall emissions of global meat production. Rather, these additives may allow companies to claim that they are doing their part to reduce emissions while in reality, overall emissions remain steady, or even increase.
The window to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions is narrow, and there may not be time to develop, scale, and implement feed additives around the world while also meaningfully reducing emissions.