Hens on a factory farm.

Why Major Meat Companies Make Bad Investments



Commercial banks and investors continue to support the largest global animal protein producers despite the devastation these companies inflict on animals, people, and the planet.

World Animal Protection Netherlands released a scathing report exposing one of the largest Dutch banks, Rabobank, for its financial ties to several of the largest farmed animal producers in the world. Our Dutch colleagues scrutinized Rabobank because it purports to emphasize sustainability in its investment decisions. The reality? It continues to finance companies linked to massive animal cruelty, deforestation, and increasing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Three companies, in particular—JBS, Cargill, and Tyson Foods—are among the largest meat and dairy producers selling to US retailers, restaurants, and food service companies. The report outlines the litany of cruelty, pollution, and corruption linked to these giants (see details below) to call out Rabobank’s failure to meet its own investment standards. Perhaps unsurprising, the largest US banks—which hold accounts for a majority of Americans—are also financing these same bad actors despite the clear material risks industrial meat and dairy represent.

Spotlight: JBS

The Brazilian company JBS is the world’s biggest meat producer. World Animal Protection has highlighted the company’s cruelty, climate lies, and corruption in recent years. Currently, JBS slaughters a staggering 27 million cattle, 47 million pigs, and 4.9 billion meat chickens per year. Although based in Brazil, 50% of the company’s revenue comes from its products sold in the US, including under brand names Pilgrim’s Pride, Gold’n Plump, Just Bare, Blue Ribbon, and Swift.

JBS has been plagued by regular undercover reports about persistent abuse of farmed animals around the world. Its suppliers utilize many of the worst practices, including extremely high stocking densities, battery cages, restrictive feeding and water bath stunning for chickens, gestation crates for mother pigs, painful mutilations and CO2 gassing of pigs, etc.

The company has been enmeshed in several scandals, most prominently one of the biggest corruption scandals in Brazilian history. In 2017, it was revealed that the company had bribed no less than 1,800 politicians for a total of 150 million dollars.

JBS and its competitor Marfrig were linked to the Colniza Massacre that same year, in which nine people were brutally killed by a gunman in a land conflict related to illegal cattle farming. In 2020, a spotlight fell on JBS’s slaughter plants in the US because the plants didn’t give staff adequate protection against COVID-19. In 2021, JBS came under scrutiny for price-fixing in the US–and has pleaded guilty as charged.

Another issue that brings JBS regularly into the news is deforestation. It has been conservatively estimated that JBS’s total deforestation footprint may be as high as 200,000 hectares in its direct supply chain and a staggering 1.5 million hectares in its indirect supply chain. In January 2022, a Bloomberg investigation concluded that JBS was “one of the biggest drivers of Amazon deforestation,” and later that year, JBS had to admit that it had bought nearly 9,000 cattle from a criminal cattle breeder whom prosecutors identified as ‘one of the biggest deforesters in Brazil.’

JBS has continued to face formal challenges against its misleading deforestation and climate claims. The US’s National Advertising Review Board ruled that the company must remove the misleading marketing claims in its online and print materials related to its unsubstantiated climate commitments. A 2022 report estimated that JBS’s total GHG emissions exceed those of several countries and noted the company’s intention to continue increasing its production size, and thus its total emissions, in the coming years. Most recently, New York State Attorney General Letitia James announced she is suing the company for fraudulent climate claims.

Spotlight: Cargill

Cargill is a global agribusiness and food company headquartered in the United States and operating in about 70 countries. It is heavily involved in the global production and trade of grains and soybeans for factory-farmed animal feed and the production of farmed animals in several countries.

Cargill has an appalling animal welfare record. As of May 31, 2023: 45 percent of the laying hens in its supply chains were caged, and 50 percent were lacking even the tiniest form of environmental enrichment; 56.5 percent of the broilers in its supply chains did not even have natural light; all of the turkeys and more than 90 percent of laying hens were physically mutilated.

Cargill has continued to do business in Russia following the country’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. According to Forbes, Cargill continues to produce wheat, animal feed, syrups, and starches in Russia, alongside the controversial food ‘texturizers,’ while crushing oilseeds and trading grains and other commodities.

The company is infamous for deforestation and related issues such as land grabbing, human rights violations, pesticide pollution, and child labor. It is one of the top ten polluters in the US food industry and has ‘exhibited a disturbing and repetitive pattern of deception and destruction.’

In 2023, ClientEarth filed a legal complaint against Cargill over its failure to adequately deal with its contribution to soy-driven deforestation and human rights violations in Brazil. ClientEarth identified that Cargill lacked the environmental due diligence necessary to ensure its soy was sourced from non-deforested areas and did not appear to have adequate systems in place to address human rights impacts related to its soy operations in Brazil. The complaint cites forced displacement and violence against land defenders in the area of influence of one of its trading hubs in Brazil. It also details how communities’ traditional ways of living and interacting with land are being destroyed by deforestation and land conversion as the environment they rely on is stripped, while pesticide contamination related to soy farming is harming human health.

Spotlight: Tyson Foods

Tyson Foods is the second-largest meat processor in the world. Arguably, the company’s most dire track record is on animal cruelty. Again and again, scandals have erupted about egregious abuse of animals. Tyson Foods calls these ‘incidents,’ but the reality is that they are baked into the industry standards. Chickens are kept in extremely high stocking densities, sitting in their own waste, living without enrichment, and often without natural light. Bred for rapid weight gain, modern chickens have inherent physical suffering, and slaughterhouse lines run at egregious speeds using the cruel method of water bath stunning.

Tyson Foods keeps its pigs in barren environments, routinely mutilated without anesthetics or veterinary oversight, and controversially gassed with CO2. An undercover investigation on a pig farm in the company’s We Care program—which boasts the highest standards—shows the greenwashing rampant in the company, exposing stomach-turning footage of pigs beaten, neglected, brutally mutilated, and gassed in often botched attempts to kill them.

The company has a long-standing reputation for worker’s rights abuses, bribery, child labor, price-fixing, wage-fixing, and exploiting legislative loopholes. Tyson Foods employees have even been connected to human trafficking for labor from Mexico and Guatemala. A congressional committee in 2021 concluded that Tyson ‘prioritized profit and production’ over the health and safety of its employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. Within a year of the virus’s onset, almost thirty thousand Tyson Foods employees were infected, resulting in 151 deaths.

The company is the second biggest emitter of GHG emissions in the meat and dairy industry. It has been connected to grassland clearing in Nebraska, Iowa, and Kansas as well as to manure and fertilizer pollution contributing to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, Tyson Foods gained the dishonorable title of top water polluter among US agribusiness companies.

These companies are not outliers. In the factory farming industry, practices like the above are standard. As a result, billions of animals and millions of people suffer.

You can help ban this cruel industry of factory farming by urging your legislator to support the Farm System Reform Act, a measure that would hold meat companies like JBS, Cargill, and Tyson Foods responsible for the harm caused by their horrific farming practices.

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