Six major food companies, from General Mills to Danone, said at the UN climate summit that they will reduce their dairy methane emissions as part of a new alliance that includes a major U.S. environmental group. The Dairy Methane Action Alliance will require members to publicly disclose emissions within their dairy supply chains and implement a methane action plan.
“Dairy farmers can be part of the fight against climate change by reducing methane pollution,” said Fred Krupp, head of the Environmental Defense Fund, who added, “It’s time for others in the dairy industry to join us.” Founding members of the alliance were Bel Group, Danone, General Mills, Kraft Heinz, Lactalis USA, and Nestlé. The companies have combined revenues of $200 billion.
It’s estimated that agriculture is responsible for a quarter to a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Dairy generates nearly 10% of the world’s emissions of methane, which is far more potent in trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, though it decays in around 12 years while carbon dioxide persists for centuries.
“The commitment by dairy companies to report on their methane emissions is a step in the right direction,” said Nusa Urbancic, head of the Changing Markets Foundation, which aims to use consumer power to prompt companies to offer environmentally sustainable products. “This must be followed with clear targets for methane reductions and a plan to deliver on them.” Urbancic faulted dairy giants such as Fonterra and Dairy Farmers of America for “opting out of action on their main form of emissions.”
Members of the methane alliance said they would achieve their emissions reductions in different ways. Bel Group, a cheese marketer, said it would work with farmers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from dairy farms by 25% by 2035. Danone said it was “committed to reduce methane emissions from fresh milk 30% by 2030.” Kraft Heinz acknowledged that it has “a responsibility to focus on reducing emissions in areas most material to our business, specifically those that have the biggest heating impact, like methane.”
In California, the No. 1 milk-producing state, manure digesters are a cornerstone of state efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the dairy industry. The digesters trap methane as it rises from pools of liquified manure so it can be used as a power source to generate electricity or as a fuel for trucks. There were 322 digesters on farms nationwide in 2021, mostly on dairy farms, said the USDA.
“While boosters say the technology has already helped the [California dairy] industry achieve 22% of its needed emission reductions, the facilities are coming under increasing fire from critics, who say they spew lung-damaging pollution in local communities and seriously undermine the state’s net-zero carbon goals,” said the Los Angeles Times. There are about 120 digesters on California farms. The state offers incentives to build them and to use the biogas they produce.
Staffers at the California Air Resources Board recently recommended ending the financial incentives to capture and burn dairy methane by 2040, said the Times. “But the board will vote on the future of this program early next year.”