Could Livestock Companies be the Next Target as Legal Challenges Against the Fossil Fuel Industry Achieve Some Successes?


Hey y’all, the beef is real in climate courtrooms, where livestock industry giants are finally getting served for their greenhouse gas emissions. Turns out, our burger habit is cooking up about 30% of global warming; but don’t expect the government to grill these producers anytime soon — they’re too busy regulating oil and gas. Instead, the legal eagles are stepping in, with cases popping up worldwide that could make livestock companies accountable for their emissions, just like fossil fuel firms.

Livestock Industry and Climate Crisis: A Rising Legal Battle

Livestock agriculture, a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, is starting to face lawsuits for its contribution to climate change. According to a new analysis from Yale Law School researchers, the growing trend of litigation against the livestock industry could potentially become a crucial tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The authors suggest that primary players in livestock agriculture could be comparable with fossil fuel industry giants such as Exxon and Shell.

Despite the rising wave of climate litigation globally, animal agriculture has not seen the same level of legal scrutiny until now. The study reveals a rising number of lawsuits against the industry and government regulators for failing to address the industry’s role in climate change. This trend is emerging following successful legal action against the oil and gas industry, which is expected to continue after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the industry’s attempts to halt lawsuits against oil companies like Exxon.

The researchers spent two years analyzing legal databases for cases involving animal agriculture and climate impacts. Their report, titled “Methane Majors,” is a nod to “Carbon Majors” — a finding from a decade ago that a few companies were responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions. This concept sparked legal action against governments and the fossil fuel industry, which has been gaining momentum in recent years.

Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, accounts for about 30% of global warming. Reducing methane emissions, which largely come from livestock, is considered a particularly effective way to slow global warming. Despite this, regulators have continued a laissez-faire approach.

In the U.S., a major producer of livestock and dairy products, the Environmental Protection Agency has not required permits or monitoring for methane under the Clean Air Act. Animal agriculture emissions are under-regulated and insufficiently addressed by climate policy. Legal action may be helpful in this largely unregulated space.

Most legal action against the livestock industry, which is responsible for 10-30% of global emissions, has so far occurred in Europe. However, a recent lawsuit filed by the New York State Attorney General against JBS, the world’s largest beef company, could open the door for more litigation in the U.S.

Bray and Poston suggest that several legal strategies could result in lawsuits against livestock companies, including claims against government regulators or tort claims in which a plaintiff argues negligence or a breach of duty to protect the public from harm caused by climate change.

In New Zealand, the Supreme Court ruled that a Maori community could sue seven companies, including energy companies and dairy giant Fonterra, the country’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, on the grounds that climate change is threatening Maori coastal land.

The researchers argue that well-founded litigation could potentially facilitate necessary action, including reduced production and consumption of animal products, where gridlocked political processes have failed.

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