Development banks are facing calls to stop funding factory farming, which is playing a significant role in existential crises facing humanity including the climate breakdown, biodiversity loss, and antibiotic resistance.
This is the message coming from Sinergia Animal, an international animal protection organization set up to ‘end the worst practices of industrial animal agriculture’. It works in countries of the Global South – Southeast Asia and Latin America.
The organization has scored some significant victories for animals. In addition, it was recognized as one of the most effective animal protection NGOs in the world by Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE) in 2018 after just over a year of work. It retained this recognition in 2019.
Sinergia Animal points out that factory farming is responsible for significant Amazon deforestation as well as 14.5 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
The dirty and inhumane conditions in which industrially-farmed animals are kept cause tremendous animal suffering and are a major risk for the transmission of new zoonotic diseases similar to COVID-19.
Another public health threat in which animal farming plays a significant role is antibiotic resistance. According to the WHO, the ‘high volume of antibiotics in food-producing animals contributes to the development of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria, particularly in settings of intensive animal production’.
Despite intensive animal farming being a major factor in these existential threats, money – to the tune of billions of dollars – has been poured into the sector by development banks.
The role of development banks is to invest medium and long-term capital into industries in poorer countries in a bid to boost economic growth. What many may be troubled to learn is that taxes fund development banks.
Two of the world’s biggest development banks are the World Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Despite pledging to tackle climate change, both have pumped billions of dollars into animal agriculture over the last decade.
They have invested $2.6bn (£2.1bn) into beef, pig, and poultry farming, as well as dairy production and abattoirs between them. This is in the last decade alone.
This support goes against what these institutions should do, says Sinergia Animal. “A development bank’s mission should be to support the sustainable development of a country or a region,” spokesperson Carolina Galvani told Plant Based News.
“It does this with taxpayers’ money. Therefore, the projects, companies, and activities they finance should benefit the common good. Therefore, development banks should refrain from financing activities that hamper the achievement of the Paris Agreement goals and the sustainable development goals (SDGs).
“Industrial livestock is such a sector. This is due to its contribution to deforestation, GHG emissions, and pollution. And that’s not all. Other issues include zoonotic diseases, antibiotic resistance, unhealthy diets, and employees’ exposure to bad working conditions.
“Moreover, it also causes immense animal suffering. Development banks should support countries in developing sustainable and fair food production systems, instead of financing intensive livestock projects.”
Sinergia Animal is not alone in its condemnation of these investments. Jeremy Coller is the head of investment firm Coller Capital and founder of responsible finance network FAIRR.
Coller has described the investment of public funds into intensive animal agriculture by these banks as ‘crazily disjointed and inconsistent’. This is because intensive agriculture is ‘one of the world’s highest-emitting industries’.
On the issue of the money coming from public funds, Sinergia Animal says: “Many taxpayers might not be so aware of the impacts of the industrial livestock sector. Still, in general, taxpayers would like their tax money to be invested in genuinely sustainable projects that benefit the common good and not in projects that benefit only a few corporations and contribute to many problems.”
‘A radical shift’
So how are development banks able to get away with pumping cash into these operations when they are so harmful?
Sinergia Animal puts it down to a lack of knowledge. Galvani said: “For many banks, the livestock sector is still not really on their radar. They think about energy and transport when they think about reducing emissions, but not about livestock. This is strange, considering it is such a large contributor to GHG emissions.”
She added that while development banks have ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) policies in place, these are ‘narrow-focused’. And, they only look at the impacts of individual projects. This means as long as these respect certain impact limits, and certain GHG emissions, banks are able to finance them.
“But looking at projects at an individual level does not show the full picture,” said Galvani. “To meet the Paris Agreement’s goals and the SDGs, the world needs a radical shift in how it produces food. And it should be the role of a development bank to help countries, especially the ones from the Global South ones, to achieve this shift.”
You can find out more about Singeria Animal’s campaign to stop development banks investing in factory farming here. The organization is looking for voices worldwide to become advocates of this campaign and help spread this message.
*This content is supported by Singeria Animal International.