Conservation news

Brazil beef giants linked to illegal Amazon deforestation

Ranching in Pará state, Brazil. The nation is home to more than 200 million head, with “cattle laundering” made easy by weak monitoring and enforcement. Photo credit: acmoraes on Visualhunt / CC BY.

  • Brazil’s biggest beef companies have been directly linked to more than 17,000 hectares (42,000 acres) of illegal deforestation in the Amazon state of Pará.
  • According to an investigation by Global Witness, JBS, Marfrig and Minerva bought cattle from a combined total of 379 ranches between 2017 and 2019 where illegal deforestation had taken place.
  • The firms also failed to monitor 4,000 ranches in their supply chains that were connected to large areas of deforestation in the state, investigators found.
  • Brazil has the second-largest cattle herd in the world, which is the leading driver of deforestation emissions in Latin America.

Brazil’s biggest beef companies have been directly linked to more than 17,000 hectares (42,000 acres) of illegal deforestation in the Amazon state of Pará.

According to a recent investigation by NGO Global Witness, JBS, Marfrig and Minerva bought cattle from a combined total of 379 ranches between 2017 and 2019 where illegal deforestation had taken place.

Global Witness said the deforestation contravened the beef companies’ zero-deforestation pledges and agreements with federal prosecutors in Brazil. Ranchers accused by the authorities of land-grabbing as well as rights abuses against indigenous peoples and activists were still able to sell their product to the firms, the group said.

The firms also failed to monitor 4,000 ranches in their supply chains that were connected to large areas of deforestation in the state, investigators found. 

“Our investigation clearly demonstrates that relying on an unregulated private sector with voluntary no-deforestation policies has failed to tackle forest destruction and related human rights abuses. This could contribute to the permanent loss of the Amazon rainforest,” Chris Moye, senior Amazon forests investigator at Global Witness, said in a statement.

Brazil has the second-largest cattle herd in the world, which is the leading driver of deforestation emissions in Latin America. In 2009, JBS, Minerva and Marfrig pledged not to buy cattle from ranches linked to deforestation, or ones that overlapped with indigenous lands or were accused of land grabbing, from that year onwards.

The locations of the ranches in Pará linked to illegal deforestation which JBS, Marfrig and Minerva purchased from between 2017 and 2019. Image courtesy of Global Witness.

International auditors DNV-GL and Grant Thornton were criticized by Global Witness for failing to identify illegal deforestation in the companies’ supply chains. Major financial institutions including Deutsche Bank, Santander, Barclays, HSBC, the World Bank and BlackRock also came under fire for providing more than $9 billion of investments and loans to the firms.

“The auditors, financiers and retailers linked to the rapacious Amazon deforestation being carried out by these beef giants are all helping fuel the destruction of this vital ecosystem and carbon sink, implicating faraway customers and bank account holders in the process,” Moye said.

“These actors cannot plead ignorance – backing beef supply chains in the middle of the Amazon is a predictably high-risk business, especially when you are dealing with companies with very poor environmental track records like JBS, Marfrig and Minerva. If your business is failing to do proper due diligence and profiting from these meat traders’ destructive practices, you are part of the problem.”

In a statement, JBS said a review of all of the cases presented in the investigation had concluded that the “analysis methodology employed by Global Witness is seriously flawed.”

In a detailed response to JBS, Global Witness said it “evaluated every one of these explanations and found JBS’s claims were not justified for any of them, and stands by the initial allegations. Many of the justifications provided by JBS lacked coherence and were contradictory.”

Marfrig denied purchases from ranches implicated in the investigation breached its no-deforestation agreements. On the issue of monitoring of its indirect suppliers, the firm told investigators: “Marfrig knows that it is necessary to go further and since last year it has been working on an ambitious plan in partnership with the IDH – The Sustainable Trade Initiative, to implement its commitments.”

Global Witness said Minerva, which investigators linked to 680 hectares of illegal deforestation among 16 direct suppliers, was “leagues ahead” of JBS and Marfrig in terms of compliance with no-deforestation commitments. Minerva rejected the allegations of deforestation at its suppliers’ ranches.

 

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Banner image: Rancher at work in Pará state, Brazil. The country is home to more than 200 million head of cattle. Photo credit: acmoraes on Visualhunt / CC BY.