Conservation news

UK military beef supplier buys from sanctioned Brazilian farmers, investigation shows

Cattle in Mato Grosso, Brazil. Photo by Rhett A. Butler for Mongabay.

Cattle in Mato Grosso, Brazil. Photo by Rhett A. Butler for Mongabay.

  • Beef served to UK military personnel in the Middle East was sourced from a Brazilian company whose suppliers have illegally deforested more than 8,000 hectares of land, an investigation by NGO Earthsight and Reporter Brasil has found.
  • The Ministry of Defence’s Bahrain catering subcontractor bought thousands of cattle from farmers who were fined a total of 33.5 million Brazilian real (about $6 million) by various authorities for malpractice, including illegal land clearance, falsifying documents and pollution.
  • Some 5,800 square kilometres of forest is lost annually to the beef industry in Brazil, while last year’s rampant forest fires have been credibly linked to large-scale cattle ranching and associated land grabs. Cattle laundering in Brazil has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years and is a substantial problem for Brazil’s meatpacking firms as systems for monitoring supply chains remain weak.

Beef served to UK military personnel in the Middle East was sourced from a Brazilian company whose suppliers have illegally deforested more than 8,000 hectares of land, including in the Amazon and Cerrado, an investigation by Earthsight and Reporter Brasil has found.

Using freedom of information requests and by analysing data on sanctioned cattle ranchers, slaughterhouse transactions and shipping records, the researchers showed suppliers to the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) in Bahrain received beef from  Frigorifico Sul Ltda (Frigosul), a part of the Fuga Couros Group, one of the largest leather producers in Brazil.

The MoD’s Bahrain catering subcontractor bought thousands of cattle from farmers who were fined a total of 33.5 million Brazillian real (about $6 million) by various authorities for malpractice, including illegal land clearance, falsifying documents and pollution.

The catering partner, Overseas Supply Services Limited, operated by Kellogg Brown Root (KBR), signed a $48 million contract with the MoD in 2017, according to the research. As well as Frigosul, Brazillian firm Minerva and Premier Foods of Saudi Arabia were also named as suppliers to military personnel in Bahrain.

Several shipments of beef were supplied by a Frigosul facility in Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul states, the same slaughterhouses supplied by farmers who incurred the $6 million in fines.

Frigosul told Earthsight it used third-party monitoring and as a result it was not possible for the firm to buy from suppliers sanctioned by the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA). “Frigosul, by conviction and by the principles itself, does not buy cattle from rural properties that are on the embargo list, as the company does not agree with the attitudes of those on the embargo list,” it told the NGO.

However, despite telling investigators it has the “most rigorous methods of controls, including the origin of the animals to be slaughtered”, Earthsight and Reporter Brasil uncovered evidence it had received beef from suppliers that had previously deforested almost 9,000 hectares (19,768 acres). Two-thirds of the roughly $6 million in fines accrued over the past two decades by the suppliers remain unpaid, they said.

Frigosul and Minerva beef has been used by the Royal Navy in Bahrain since 2018. Image by Sandy Watt for Earthsight.

Earthsight said the evidence it had collected points to a possible “cattle laundering” scheme – when ranchers move cattle from an embargoed farm to an untainted one to avoid regulation – within Frigosul’s supply chain.

Some 5,800 square kilometres of forest is lost annually to the cattle industry in Brazil, while last year’s rampant forest fires have been credibly linked to large-scale cattle ranching and associated land grabs. Cattle laundering in Brazil has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years and is a substantial problem for Brazil’s meatpacking firms as systems for monitoring supply chains remain weak.

Minerva, Brazil’s second-largest meatpacker, does not trace its indirect suppliers and though it maintains a zero-deforestation policy Brazilian NGO IMAZON estimates it is at risk of buying from 200,000 hectares (494,000 acres) of embargoed Amazon land. The firm denied it buys Amazon beef from unmonitored farms and said it blocked suppliers who did not meet its criteria, in a statement to Earthsight, though it admitted it “does not have effective means of verifying and tracking indirect suppliers”.

Shipping data from Premier Foods analyzed by Earthsight and Reporter Brasil show about a third of its Brazilian beef came from Mataboi Alimentos, a firm run by José Batista Júnior, the brother of the owners of the world’s largest meatpacking company, JBS, who was recently alleged to have paid bribes to slaughterhouse inspectors.

It is unknown whether the cattle Frigosul bought from previously sanctioned ranchers was supplied to the MoD, or whether beef purchased by Fine Foods from Brazilian suppliers was sourced from embargoed ranchers.

Mongabay has contacted the MoD for comment.

 

Banner image: Cattle in Mato Grosso, Brazil. Photo by Rhett A. Butler for Mongabay.

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