April 17, 2013
The fines are based on Brazilian laws that prohibit beef producers from buying cattle from ranches that rely on slave labor, recently deforested areas in the Amazon, and indigenous reservations. The fines are calculated using the number of animals allegedly raised in illegal conditions. According to prosecutors, the 26 companies bought 55,699 illicit cattle between in the first nine months of 2012.
The companies were targeted after they refused to sign an agreement binding them to respecting rules on cattle sourcing. Subsequent monitoring by the government found they were buying illegal cattle.
Deforestation for cattle production in Mato Grosso. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
Reuters named Brasil Foods, a giant Brazilian food company, as one of the offenders. It faces fines of $8.9 million for allegedly buying 1,762 cattle raised on illegally-deforested land in the state of Mato Grosso.
The cases will next go to court in the states where the activities are alleged to have occurred.
The fines come as the Brazilian government continues its crackdown on illegal forest clearing. Cattle ranching is the single biggest direct driver of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon, making it a top target by state and federal prosecutors.
Increased vigilance is widely seen as a factor contributing to the sharp drop in deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon over the past decade. Forest clearing during the 2011-2012 year was more than 80 percent lower compared with the same period in 2003-2004.
Cattle in Mato Grosso. Photo by Rhett A. Butler
Brazil has the largest extent of tropical forest in the world. More than 80 percent of the Amazon — Earth's biggest rainforest — lies within Brazil's borders. The country has made cutting deforestation a central part of its greenhouse gas emissions reduction program.