Divest, Defund and Regulate

17th Nov 22 by Anneke Boersma

What's the role of government, banks and shareholders in phasing down industrial factory farming?

Here I am, sipping my tea behind my laptop, thousands of kilometres away from Egypt. I’m dialling in to the COP27 webinar organised by our sister organisation, Feedback Global, which aims to explore the possibilities of holding the incredibly polluting meat and dairy industry accountable for what they’re doing.

The session begins by outlining the devastating impact that Big Livestock is having on our planet: driving global heating, deforestation, polluting water and air from the use of pesticides and manure for feed, and posing health risks from the consumption of animal-based products.

It’s clear: industrial agriculture simply cannot co-exist with a safe, healthy, and thriving planet.

Yet development banks — institutions who have “to combat poverty and promote economic growth in their region” — have been propping up these dirty companies by giving them 5 billion dollars in the last decade alone. Between 2015 and 2020, global meat and dairy companies received over 478 billion dollars in backing by over 2,500 investment firms, banks, and pension funds headquartered around the globe. This is precisely the opposite of what we need to transition towards a sustainable food system. Governments, investors, and banks need to step up to the plate and take action to hinder industrial factory farming.

Governments, start regulating!

With 1,5 degrees warming coming closer and closer, time is running out for small-scale, incremental changes like changing individual consumption habits. Pushing responsibility onto consumers has been a tactic used by fossil fuels companies for years to divert attention away from their own polluting activities and delay taking responsibility. To bring about the rapid, widespread change that we urgently need, governments do not have to tell people what (not) to eat. Instead, they can direct their attention to the food environment itself. They are already shaping our food environments by their policies and subsidies; it’s now time for their efforts to be in favour of people instead of profit. Dietary guidelines, public food procurement, or banning advertisement of animal-based proteins in the public space, like the city of Haarlem in the Netherlands did, are a good place to start.

Banks, start defunding!

The world of technology and digital banking mean that most of us now pay by card and have money in separate savings accounts. But have you ever considered what your savings are being used for while you are not using them? Guess what – there is a chance that your money is being used by banks and other companies to prop up meat and dairy companies. In the Netherlands for example, the Rabobank and the ING Group have a large stake in supporting industrial factory farming.

As with investors, funding comes with risks, especially as these companies are dependent on a stable environment, such as soil health and temperatures. The climate crisis affects the stability of every part of society, including the financial sectors. Keeping in mind that we are heading towards a climate catastrophe, banks must stop funding destructive industries and start investing in future-proof companies striving to create a regenerative and healthy food system.

Investors, start divesting!

Can you imagine chatting to the CEO of a Big Meat and Dairy company and coming to a mutual agreement over the commitments and actions that need to be taken to protect people and the planet? Me neither. Unfortunately, any meaningful engagement with this sector has so far been futile; the main reason being that their core business is a polluting industry whose primary motive is profit. They face losses and stranded assets if livestock production is reduced, so they will do anything to avoid this. This is made clear by their lack of targets to reduce production and inaction surrounding reducing livestock numbers. They also lobby against policies that would hinder or impede meat and dairy production and consumption, whilst actively promoting misinformation that distracts or downplays the negative impacts of meat and dairy. Many big livestock companies are “closely held” (i.e. the majority of shares are owned by few individuals), so the minority shareholders, even collectively, have limited influence over what’s happening in the company. Pick your battles: save engagement for retailers and caterers who can switch procurement practices to less meat and dairy without risk to their core business.

Has reading this made you feel a bit hopeless? Let’s learn from the fossil fuel divestment. Over 1,485 institutions globally representing over 39.2 trillion dollar in assets have already committed to going fossil free. Let’s remain hopeful and make that happen in the animal factory farming too!

What can you do next?
Watch the webinar

The webinar organised by Feedback Global and Sinergia Animal has been recorded and can be viewed on YouTube. Find out why we are working on this topic and learn more about what you can do.

Click here