Bankrolling the Butchers

UK banks providing billions in financing to big livestock corporations responsible for higher greenhouse gas emissions than UK and Ireland

A new report released today by Feedback, ‘Bankrolling the Butchers’, reveals the scale of six UK banks’ financing of big livestock corporations – the world’s largest mass-producers and/or processors of meat, dairy and eggs at an unsustainable industrial scale.

At COP28, the FAO is expected to officially recommend that rich nations need to reduce their over-consumption of meat to meet Paris climate targets, as part of its global food systems’ road map to 1.5C but Feedback’s findings show that finance is continuing to flow into meat production.

In total the UK’s ‘Big Six’ banks (Barclays, HSBC, Santander, Lloyds, NatWest and Standard Chartered) provided at least $77 billion (£62 billion) in financing to 55 of the world’s largest big livestock and animal feed companies between 2015-2022. These banks also owned nearly $1.2 billion (£1 billion) in shareholdings in these companies as of March 2023.

The largest UK financier of industrial livestock companies was Barclays, which provided $28.2 billion (£23 billion) in financing during this period, followed by HSBC, which provided $23.6 billion (£19 billion), and Santander, which provided $13.7 billion (£11 billion).

The ‘Big Six’ banks provided a total of $21.6 billion (£17 billion) in finance between 2015 and 2022 to five of the world’s biggest emitting big livestock companies – JBS, Marfrig, Cargill, Tyson Foods, and Minerva. These five companies combined cause an estimated 595 million tonnes CO2-equivalent in greenhouse gas emissions per year, more than the total emissions of the UK and Ireland. The ‘Big Six’ banks also held $143 million (£115 million) in shareholdings in these five companies.

Barclays and HSBC were the biggest financiers to US-based multinational Cargill, providing $4.9 billion (£4 billion) to the company. Cargill is one of the world’s largest big livestock and animal feed companies, responsible for an estimated 86.3 million tonnes CO2-equivalent in greenhouse gas emissions per year, more than the emissions of Norway. As the joint owner of Avara Foods, one of the largest suppliers of chicken and turkey to UK supermarkets and restaurants, Cargill bears significant responsibility for pollution in the Wye Valley, where intensive poultry farming by companies including Avara has wreaked devastation in recent years. The report finds that by financing Cargill, Barclays and HSBC are indirectly contributing to the ecological destruction of the River Wye. Cargill has also been linked to deforestation and land grabbing from Indigenous territories in the Amazon region.

The report also finds that between 2015-22, Barclays was the world’s largest financier to JBS – providing approximately US$2.75 billion (£2.2 billion) in corporate loans, US$450 million (£361 million) in revolving credit facilities and underwriting an estimated US$3.5 billion (£2.8 billion) in bond issuances for JBS and its subsidiaries. JBS is the world’s biggest meat corporation, whose activities are estimated to cause more greenhouse gas emissions than Spain.

In light of these findings, Feedback is calling for the ‘Big 6’ banks to immediately stop new financing for big livestock and animal feed companies, on the basis of their large environmental and social impacts – and to divest all shares and bonds in these companies within the next five years.

Martin Bowman, senior policy and campaigns manager at Feedback, said:

“Industrial livestock corporations are the food system’s biggest cause of emissions, deforestation, human rights abuses, pandemic risks and animal cruelty. They are hardwired to mass-produce unsustainable quantities of meat and dairy to preserve the profits of their core business – so defunding these companies is the only sustainable option for banks. The science is clear that we need to reduce global meat production to stay within safe environmental limits. We need policymakers to use every tool at their disposal to ensure a just transition to lower meat and dairy production and consumption, including regulation to cut off the financial fodder for this polluting industry.”

“Banks defend fuelling the fire of climate crisis by claiming they are engaging with polluters to improve practice – this is delusion, or greenwash, or both. In reality, polluters like Shell are defiantly ramping up fossil fuel production, whilst livestock corporations like JBS are openly planning for a 70% global increase in animal protein production by 2050 – both are a recipe for environmental disaster. UK bank environmental policies are worthless as long as they keep funding these destructive companies, which fiercely lobby against environmental policies and show no sign of being reformable.”

Kenneth Green, Campaigns Manager at Make My Money Matter said:

“The world is facing a climate and nature emergency, and our banks are providing the cash that's fuelling this fire. Feedback’s alarming findings show the extent to which banks support the world’s largest livestock and animal feed companies; driving emissions, damaging nature and destroying lives and livelihoods around the world. All banks - especially those biggest financiers of agribusiness such as Barclays, HSBC and Santander - must take urgent action to understand and reduce the impacts of their investments on the planet. The clock is ticking.“

Richard Tyler from Save the Wye said:

“We are fully behind Feedback’s campaign. Surely Cargill knew their operation would pollute the Wye having been convicted of doing exactly the same to the Illinois River in the USA. We need the Banks to invest in restoring the Wye, not polluting it.”