- A new investigation by Earthsight, a London-based environmental group, and De Olho nos Ruralist, which monitors agribusiness in Brazil, has linked supermarket chains, fast food outlets and pet food brands in Europe to a 9,700-hectare farm, Brasília do Sul, that has become synonymous with Indigenous rights abuses in Brazil’s Mato Grosso do Sul state.
- Brasília do Sul was the home to a group of Guarani Kaiowá Indigenous until they were forcibly evicted in the 1950s to pave the way for agricultural development.
- According to the report, fast food giant KFC, and UK supermarkets Sainsbury’s, Asda, Aldi and Iceland, as well as pet food sold in Germany by Lidl, Aldi, Netto, Edeka and other major retailers, rely on chicken fed with soy produced by Brasília do Sul.
- MEP Delara Burkhardt, shadow rapporteur for the Socialist and Democrats Group in the European Parliament, says the findings of the report show why the EU needs rules against imported deforestation and called for free, prior and informed consent to use and convert land to be made an integral part of the forthcoming EU deforestation framework.
In the 1950s a group of Guarani Kaiowá Indigenous living in the community of Takuara in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul was forcefully evicted from the land they had called home for centuries to pave the way for agricultural development.
Today, Takuara is known as Brasília do Sul, a 9,700-hectare farm that has become synonymous with Indigenous rights abuses in Brazil.
According to new research published on Wednesday, Brasília do Sul is now a major producer of soy that is sold to large cooperatives and traders, including Lar Cooperativa Agroindustrial, one of Brazil’s largest poultry producers.
The investigation was carried out by Earthsight, a London-based environmental group, and De Olho nos Ruralist, which monitors agribusiness in Brazil.
UK-based Westbridge Foods has been identified as one of the major buyers of frozen and marinated chicken from Lar and is a supplier of poultry products to KFC, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Aldi and Iceland, among others.
Between 2018 and 2021 Westbridge reportedly imported over 37,000 tonnes of frozen and marinated chicken from Lar – about a third of the chicken the Brazilian firm sent to the EU and UK over the period.
In response to questions posed by investigators regarding the findings of the report, both Aldi and Asda denied that the chicken supplied to Westbridge has any links to Brasília do Sul, while Sainsbury’s stated that the chicken supplied to them does not come from Lar. Sainsbury’s and Aldi said they would investigate the matter with Westbridge, adding that they were committed to respecting human rights throughout their supply chains and sourcing sustainable soy.
But companies in the UK aren’t the only ones that were linked to Brasília do Sul. Records obtained by Earthsight and De Olho nos Ruralist show that Lar’s only major European customer for chicken products for pet food is Hamburg-based Paulsen Food, which bought about 14,000 tonnes of them between 2017 and 2021. Paulsen Food is a supplier of poultry products to Saturn Petcare and Animonda Petcare, which supply pet food to some of Germany’s largest retailers.
Mongabay reached out to Westbridge and Paulsen for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.
“These findings reinforce the need for upcoming secondary legislation of the UK Environment Act to include, to the widest extent possible, the protection of indigenous land rights, and to cover key commodities, including soy and soy-fed chicken,” says Rubens Carvalho, Earthsight’s head of deforestation research.
Last November, the UK Environment Act was approved by Parliament. It was intended to ban the use of commodities linked to deforestation in UK commercial activities once it comes into effect in the next five years but does not directly address associated human rights violations.
An ecological catastrophe
The European Commission has also presented a proposal for a new regulation to curb deforestation and degradation. However, while the proposal includes soy, they do not include chicken, allowing importers to be free of the monitoring obligation.
“The case of the Guarani Kaiowá as revealed by this report sadly illustrates why we urgently need EU rules against imported deforestation, not only for nature but also for people. Land-grabbing and violations of land ownership rights, especially of indigenous people, are common practices to gain land for agricultural production – also for European markets” Delara Burkhardt, shadow rapporteur for the Socialist and Democrats Group in the European Parliament, told Mongabay.
“It’s an ecological catastrophe and a human tragedy.”
Burkhardt has called for the internationally recognized right to free, prior and informed consent to use and convert land to be made an integral part of the forthcoming EU deforestation framework.
Following the Takuara acquisition by cattle baron Jacintho Honório da Silva Filho in 1966, the Guarani Kaiowá’s made numerous attempts to regain access to their ancestral land to no avail.
“The Guarani Kaiowá’s attempts to regain access to their ancestral land have been brutally suppressed, including through violent evictions and the aggressive use of the courts to stymie them,” says the report.
In 2003 Kaiowá leader Marcos Veron was beaten to death when armed Brasília do Sul workers and hired gunmen attacked the camp the indigenous people had set up on the disputed territory. However, while three persons were convicted for the attack, no one was ever sentenced for his murder.
“The Guarani Kaiowá’s constitutional rights continue to be suppressed by a hostile government, inequality in the justice system and powerful farming interests,” Earthsight said.
The 2003 incident was not the last violent attack the Guarani Kaiowá people would face. According to the report, the group expanded the area they had been occupying at Takuara from 300 to over 1,500 hectares. This resulted in six consecutive nights of armed attacks and a “relentless siege by armed men,” in February of the same year. While a federal judge had ordered the community’s removal, the Supreme Court and Brazil’s Attorney General have ruled against evicting the Kaiowá to avoid bloodshed.
The Kaiowá people of Takuara are still waiting for the final resolution of the case.
“The community’s ultimate fate depends on whether the federal government will abide by its constitutional mandate and grant the Kaiowá exclusive rights over their ancestral lands,” the report notes.
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