The meatpacking giant has long faced allegations that it is fuelling deforestation and now Brazil’s environment commission has called for an investigation into its traceability mechanisms.
JBS is the world's biggest meat company. The firm is under pressure to track its entire cattle supply chain in Brazil.
The world’s largest meat company is facing renewed pressure
to improve steps it takes to monitor “indirect suppliers” used in its cattle
purchases in Brazil.
JBS has long faced allegations that its supply chain is
linked to illegal deforestation and critics are now demanding the firm address
the impact its indirect suppliers have on the environment.
In the wake of Greenpeace’s landmark Slaughtering the Amazon
report in 2009, JBS and Brazil’s other major meatpackers agreed to not purchase
from farms involved in illegal deforestation but over a decade later and major
holes in its traceability mechanisms remain.
JBS has failed to disclose the extent to which it relies on
indirect suppliers – farms that transport cattle to a second ranch before being
sent to slaughter – and now critical voices in Brazil’s political sphere are
calling for action.
Senator Fabiano Contarato, who presides over the environment commission, has called for Brazil’s environment and agriculture ministers to attend a Congress hearing.
“These facts are serious and they should be
investigated rigorously,” he said. “This is a form of cattle laundering.”
His quotes were featured in a recent
Guardian article highlighting the ineffectiveness of JBS’s current
policies including how the firm’s promotion of ‘independent audits’ it has
received to show environmental compliance have been found wanting.
Audits commissioned by JBS since 2013 as part of agreements
with various state prosecutors aimed at improving supply chain transparency
(the 2009 Meat TAC agreement with the Amazon state of Pará where all major meat
producers must monitor suppliers and agree to stamp out illegalities is a
notable example) suggest the firm is a shining example of compliance.
The two audits for 2016 and 2017 indicate that over 99 per cent of
JBS’s cattle purchases comply with environmental and labour laws.
However, when the public prosecutor’s office in Pará
commissioned its own audits of large meat producers, including JBS for 2016, a
strikingly different picture emerged.
The audit said JBS was one of the worst performing
meatpackers in the state during 2016.
It showed that the firm had bought over 118,000 heads of
cattle – or 19 per cent of its total purchases in Pará – presenting some form of
irregularity, including purchases from farms which didn’t have the mandatory
Rural Environmental Cadastre document needed to sell to slaughterhouses.
In the most recent JBS audit, conducted by Dutch company
DNV.GL, no irregularities linked to deforestation were found in 7,140 Amazon
cattle transactions in 2018.
However, the audit added that there is “no verification
system” in place for indirect suppliers and the firm has refused to answer
questions about how much of its meat is derived from indirect ranches.
“This is totally against ethical principles in relation to
its consumers,” Marina Silva, a former environment minister, told the Guardian.
“These audits end up as more of a smokescreen.”
The University of Wisconsin’s Holly Gibbs, who has studied
Amazon cattle supply chains for a decade, also told the newspaper: “The cattle
companies are monitoring direct suppliers but there are so many loopholes that
the indirect suppliers can just come in and out.”
JBS has been embroiled in several cases that have linked its suppliers to environmental breaches over the years.
In 2017, the firm was fined
£6.5 million for buying cattle reared on illegally deforested Amazon land, while other
suppliers have faced allegations of labour abuses.
Last year Earthsight revealed how UK and European supermarkets were at risk of fuelling deforestation in Brazil by using JBS beef for various corned beef products they sold.
This was followed by further research that detailed how rations packs used by the British army had for years been stocked with JBS beef from Brazil.
In a statement to the Guardian, JBS said: “JBS is committed to eradicating deforestation, ensuring sustainable livestock practices and improving the livelihoods of farmers in the Amazon region.
“We have worked for more than a decade on the frontlines, driving meaningful, responsible change in the region. We urge those who share the common goal of ending deforestation to seek solutions rather than criticism. We will only meet this collective challenge and preserve this important biome through collaboration and action.”