Former members of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said to The Guardian they were censored, sabotaged, undermined and victimised for more than a decade after they wrote about how much the methane emissions from animal agriculture contribute to global heating. They were tasked to estimate the contribution of cows and bulls to increasing global temperatures but they said that pressure from states that heavily subsidise the industry was felt throughout the FAO’s headquarters.
The allegations date back to 2006 when some officials wrote Livestock’s Long Shadow (LLS), the official report that first pushed farm emissions onto the climate agenda. LLS attributed 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions to farmed animals, mostly cows.
One ex-official said, “The lobbyists obviously managed to influence things. They had a strong impact on the way things were done at the FAO and there was a lot of censorship. It was always an uphill struggle getting the documents you produced past the office for corporate communications and one had to fend off a good deal of editorial vandalism.”
These experts allege that between 2006 and 2019, management made numerous attempts to suppress investigations into the connection between cows and climate change, with top officials rewriting and diluting key passages in another report on the same topic, burring another paper critical of big agriculture, excluding critical officials from meetings and summits, and briefing against their work.
The 18% number, published in 2006, was subsequently revised downwards in 2013 to 14.5% in a follow-up paper, Tackling Climate Change Emissions. It is currently being assessed at about 11.2% based on a new “Gleam 3.0” model, but one recent study concluded that greenhouse gas emissions from animal products made up 20% of the global total, and a 2021 study found that the figure should be between 16.5% and 28.1%. Another 2021 paper by Matthew Hayek from New York University said that the FAO’s use of emissions modelling could underestimate methane emissions from farmed animals by up to 47% in countries such as the US.