Beef cattle awaiting slaughter in a corral
Over half of the slaughterhouses in the Brazilian Amazon are failing to monitor the farms that supply them with cattle, flooding domestic and international markets with beef of unknown origin from a country beleaguered by illegal ranching.
An unpublished survey by the NGO Imazon found that only 48 percent of the slaughterhouses present in the Brazilian Amazon have signed the TAC da Carne (Beef TAC), an agreement introduced by the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office in 2009. Meatpackers who sign the agreement commit to monitoring the cattle ranches that supply them. If they discover evidence of illegal deforestation, invasion of indigenous land, or slave labour, then they agree to immediately cease purchases from that supplier.
But eight years since the agreement was first introduced, only 63 meatpackers have signed it, with another 65 refusing to do so. Following Imazon’s calculations, this means that, every day, 18,000 cattle are slaughtered in the Amazon without any environmental monitoring by the slaughterhouses that process them, exposing downstream buyers to risks including illegal deforestation. Illegal ranching is rife in Brazil, affecting the Amazon, Atlantic and Cerrado forests, as many previous Earthsight pieces have explored. Earlier this year, the world’s largest beef producer was fined $7 million for knowingly buying cattle raised on illegally deforested land in Brazil.
Much of the meat produced in non-TAC slaughterhouses is exported. In 2016, more than 100,000 tonnes of beef from nine slaughterhouses without the commitment were exported, according to data sourced by Oeco from the platform Trase. The firm Mataboi Alimentos Ltda, for example, exported to countries including the UK, Netherlands, Germany and Italy.
Enervated Enforcement Agencies
With half of slaughterhouses eschewing commitments to monitor their own suppliers, buyers of beef from firms such as Mataboi Alimentos rely entirely on enforcement by the Brazilian authorities to prevent beef sourced from illegally deforested land from entering their supply chains. But these authorities have been weakened in recent years by funding cuts and conflict with other government agencies.
As previously reported by Earthsight, both the Environment Ministry and FUNAI (Brazil’s have experienced funding cuts of more than 40 percent in 2017. IBAMA, the federal environmental enforcement agency, has had its funding cut by a third while 89 of its bases around the country have been closed. ICMBio, which enforces the environmental regulations governing conservation units, lost 40 percent of its staff between 2010 and 2016.
Beef on sale in a supermarket
Inspectors from ICMBio describe how conflict with other government departments can make it impossible for them to enforce regulations. Diego Rodrigues, coordinator of ICMBio’s surveillance team in the BR-163 region of Pará state, told Oeco that prosecuted violators frequently refuse to pay fines and continue operating in embargoed areas.
He gave the example of a rancher who for years has been illegally grazing thousands of cows in the Nascentes da Serra do Cachimbo Biological Reserve in Pará state. Nascentes da Serra do Cachimbo is one of the protected areas worst affected by illegal livestock: 80 percent of its open areas are used illegally for livestock, and nine out of ten fines and embargoes are entirely ignored by violators, according to ICMBio statistics.
ICMBio has subjected the rancher cited by Rodrigues to embargoes and R$20 million in fines, but he still refuses to remove his cattle from the protected area.
At this stage, ICMBio could utilise its power to seize and remove illegal cattle from an embargoed area. But the state Agricultural Defense Agency has refused to issue the transport permits that would allow ICMBio to do so. “For years we have been unable to seize and remove livestock from conservation units in Pará,” Rodrigues told Oeco. “They ignore our communication, leaving our hands tied.”
Brazil Attorney General Daniel Azeredo told Oeco that the refusal to release the permits is a breach of federal transparency law. “They cannot fail to carry out an operation because a state body refuses to cooperate,” he said. “If the dialogue does not get resolved, we must start with the application of penalties.”
Until that process begins, however, ranchers operating illegally – such as those in the Nascentes da Serra do Cachimbo Reserve – can continue to sell cattle to slaughterhouses that have not signed the Beef TAC. As a result, international companies that purchase beef from these firms are at high risk of exposure to illegal deforestation and the other abuses, from slave labour to land grabs, that stain beef production in Brazil.