Skip to main content

‘Precision agriculture’

What is the greenwashing trick?

Companies claim that they are making industrial animal farming “more efficient” (and therefore more environmentally-friendly) with “precision agriculture,” a farming strategy that relies on using technology to gather minute data about farm operations.

Industrial agriculture companies claim that they are supporting and incentivising farmers in their supply chain to adopt “sustainable” or “regenerative” agriculture practices by giving them access to digital and precision agriculture tools. These tools allow farmers to measure things like livestock health, feed consumption, milk production, and other characteristics of their herds.

These companies also say that they are making sure their farmers use their existing resources more efficiently and emit less overall while improving their soil, managing water resources, and increasing biodiversity. The promise of precision agriculture is that gathering and analyzing millions of data points can make industrial livestock farming more efficient – meaning each animal raised will emit fewer greenhouse gases in its lifetime – and less environmentally damaging.

How is this trick used?

Industrial meat companies and farmers in their supply chains use “precision agriculture” technologies to gather data on the health and emissions of their livestock. Meat producers then state that they are making changes to reduce emissions from livestock or improve animal and soil health, and are thus being environmentally-friendly.

Why is this bad for the climate crisis?

Precision agriculture often operates at the margins of farming – meaning farmers may make small gains in improving animal health or reducing emissions from livestock. But to avert the worst impacts of climate change, significant cuts to greenhouse gas emissions are needed, and tinkering at the margins of animal agriculture will not deliver those cuts.

Precision agriculture also relies on expensive tools and technologies that are out of reach for many farmers. If they do adopt these practices, farmers are typically burdened with most of the financial investment in and risks of the change, while corporations benefit from claiming emissions reductions in their supply chains.

Who is using this Greenwashing trick?




According to a 2018 article from FoodNavigator-USA, “Brazilian meat processor Marfrig Global Foods has forged a partnership with The Brazilian Agricultural Research Company (Embrapa) to reduce methane gas emitted by cattle.” 

Marfrig and Embrapa claim that they are producing “Carbon Neutral Beef” by using “integrated systems combined with planted trees, which are responsible for sequestering carbon and neutralizing the emissions from grass-fed animals”. 

They similarly claim that they are developing “Low Carbon Brazilian beef” by “using integrated systems with pastures without the presence of trees, but with pasture management that fixes carbon in the soil, enabling the system to reduce or mitigate animal emissions”.

The companies designed the system specifically so they could “certify” their products as being carbon neutral or low carbon, and to “differentiate Brazilian beef” to gain an advantage in trade negotiations affecting agriculture. 


Marfrig and its partner Embrapa are greenwashing their products by claiming that precision agriculture techniques like “neutralizing emissions” can make their meat climate-friendly. 

Precision agriculture techniques like “integrated systems” that “fix carbon in the soil” are not silver bullets for reducing or eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from animal agriculture; many of these technologies and practices are new, still developing, and are not 100% effective. 

But advertising their products as “carbon neutral” makes consumers think that they are making a more environmentally- and climate-friendly decision by buying Marfrig’s products.