Conservation news

British armed forces supplied by Brazilian meat firm linked to Amazon deforestation, corruption: Report

Cattle on a ranch in Pará state. Decoupling livestock production from deforestation will require full traceability and transparency of the beef supply chain, a goal that has already been achieved in Uruguay. Experts say that a lack of political will prevents implementation of a similar initiative in Brazil. Photo credit: acmoraes on VisualHunt / CC BY

  • The British military sourced beef for ration packs from Brazilian meatpacker JBS despite its history of corruption, poor environmental record and links to human rights abuses.
  • Ration packs supplied to the UK armed forces between 2009 and 2016 were found to be manufactured by JBS and supplied by Vestey Foods.
  • The sources of JBS beef imported by Vestey into the UK could not be confirmed and may not have come from illegally deforested lands or suspect supply chains.
  • Cattle ranching is the largest single driver of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon and a significant contributor to tropical carbon emissions. A recent wave of forest fires in the region prompted a global outcry and calls for tougher action to curb environmental destruction.

The British military has for years sourced beef for soldiers’ ration packs from scandal-plagued Brazilian meatpacker JBS despite its history of corruption, poor environmental record and links to human rights abuses, research by NGO Earthsight has found.

Ration packs supplied to the UK armed forces between 2009 and 2016 were found to be manufactured by JBS. By analysing shipping records, Earthsight found that Vestey Foods, a major supplier to the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD), used JBS beef in at least four official ration packs.

While JBS was no longer named as the producer of the ration packs from 2016, shipping data showed the firm supplied hundreds of tons of Brazilian beef and chicken worth $4.2 million to Vestey Foods between 2014 and 2019. However, Earthsight notes, the sources of JBS beef imported by Vestey into the UK could not be confirmed.

“[A]lthough the army ration packs that have previously contained JBS beef may not have come from illegally deforested lands or suspect supply chains, questions remain about the MoD’s possible continuing relationship with a firm that has such a chequered history,” Earthsight said.

Cattle ranching is the largest single driver of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon and a significant contributor to tropical carbon emissions. A recent wave of forest fires in the region prompted a global outcry and calls for tougher action to curb environmental destruction.

JBS is one of three Brazilian firms known to have supplied beef to the UK armed forces, along with Minerva and SulBeef, which supply beef to armed forces personnel stationed in Bahrain, according to Earthsight.

Sam Lawson, Earthsight director, said JBS had “flouted environmental standards for years and for the UK government to have been bumping up their profits, even if indirectly, is a major environmental own goal.”

The MoD, JBS and Vestey Foods did not respond to a request for comment, but the MoD told Earthsight it was “committed to upholding ethical procurement practices” and was “working with our suppliers to address any concerns surrounding the recent link between sourcing beef from Brazil and deforestation.”

In an FOI response to Earthsight the MoD said that 107 products were “deemed available to be ordered” in 2017 and 2018 that contained beef or beef products and that “four contain beef sourced from Brazil using Brazilian meat,” but added that it could not confirm how many of those products were actually supplied.

British army ration packs have used JBS meat since 2009. Photo by Earthsight.

JBS is the world’s largest meat producer with revenues last year of more than $43 billion. Until 2016, the company sourced beef from notorious rancher Antônio José Junqueira Vilela Filho, who was arrested in 2016 following a two-year criminal investigation that found he led a sophisticated criminal network responsible for illegally clearing over 30,000 hectares of public forests in the Brazilian state of Para.

The following year, JBS was fined £6.5 million ($8.1 million) for buying 50,000 cattle from deforested Amazon land. The company denied wrongdoing. Also in 2017, JBS was raided by federal agents after it was discovered to have bribed sanitation inspectors to allow rotten meat to be sold.

JBS’ founders, brothers Joesley and Wesley Batista, admitted last year to making about $180 million in illegal campaign donations over a decade to more than 1,800 candidates in return for favorable policy-making as part of Operation Car Wash, one of the largest corruption scandals in Latin American history.

“The fact that the Ministry of Defence allowed JBS beef to be used in contracts in the past, and possibly still does, is at best a procurement oversight,” Lawson said. “If the UK government is truly committed to protecting the Amazon and preventing deforestation, then ensuring that none of its departments are using beef from potentially suspect sources in Brazil would be a good place to start.”