Open letter calling on Bolsonaro to protect Amazon exposes double standards

05.12.2019

Some of the firms now calling on Bolsonaro to protect the Amazon – including Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Asda, Lidl, Carrefour and Princes – have been found by Earthsight to sell Brazilian beef from a company repeatedly implicated in illegal deforestation

Deforestation for cattle in the Amazon. Photo: Adobe Stock

This week dozens of firms and investors published an open letter aimed at Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro urging him to protect the Amazon from further deforestation for soy cultivation.

The 87 signatories include major retailers Tesco, Aldi, Lidl, Asda, Carrefour, Iceland, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose and Morrisons, as well as food producers Princes and Mars, and investment firms managing over $3 trillion of assets that include Robeco, BMO Global Asset Management, and Legal & General Investment Management.

The letter calls on the Brazilian government to maintain the Amazon Soy Moratorium (ASM), an industry voluntary agreement signed in 2006 that committed traders not to source soy from farmers implicated in fresh deforestation, slave labour or invasion of indigenous lands.

The signatories said: “We want to be able to continue to source from, or invest in, the Brazilian soy industry but if the ASM is not maintained, this will risk our business with Brazilian soy.”

The letter comes in response to a campaign by Aprosoja, a Brazilian association of soy producers, to end the moratorium. Aprosoja claims to have Bolsonaro’s support.

Recent Earthsight research shows that some of the firms now calling on Bolsonaro to protect the Amazon from deforestation linked to soy – Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Lidl, Carrefour and Princes – have been selling Brazilian beef from a company repeatedly implicated in forest destruction.

Following the recent Amazon fires Earthsight revealed that Sainsbury’s and Morrisons were selling products made with beef from JBS, a Brazilian firm caught up in a stream of scandals involving illegal deforestation, slave labour, rotten meat and the systematic bribery of politicians.

UK supermarkets continue to sell corned beef sourced from JBS in Brazil. Photo: Earthsight

In 2017, two JBS-owned slaughterhouses bought nearly 50,000 heads of cattle from ranches guilty of illegal deforestation in the Amazon. The firm was fined £6.5 million. 

JBS, the world’s largest meatpacker, also stands accused of having purchased thousands of heads of cattle from a farm owned by a notorious Brazilian cattle rancher known as Jotinha, who was arrested in relation to a massive illegal deforestation case in 2016.

In late August US campaign group Mighty Earth identified JBS as being the firm most likely to be linked to the Amazon fires, based on the location of its slaughterhouses.

Morrisons use the Brazilian firm’s corned beef for their own-brand offering, while some of the Princes corned beef stocked in Sainsbury’s also originates from the São Paulo company.

In May an Earthsight investigation named Lidl and Asda along with Italian brand Simmenthal and European retailer Carrefour as stocking JBS corned beef. At the time Earthsight’s researchers found different varieties of Princes corned beef supplied by JBS at Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons.

An online petition demanding Morrisons to stop selling JBS beef, triggered by Earthsight’s research, had garnered 260,000 signatures as of early December. Yet neither Morrisons nor any of the other companies named have yet committed to take the products off their shelves.

Earthsight Director Sam Lawson said: “The hypocrisy exhibited by these firms is shocking. Sending this letter suggests they are friends of the forest. But if so, why do they insist on continuing to stock suspect Brazilian beef? All for a few pence more profit.”

Aprosoja – as well as some of the largest soy traders – also oppose efforts to extend the soy moratorium to the Cerrado, a biodiverse savannah in Brazil and a major frontier of recent soy expansion.

Abiove, which represents soy traders in Brazil, has voiced concern that the overturn of the moratorium would put $5 billion of European imports of Brazilian soy at risk. The moratorium has been credited with reducing deforestation for soy in the Amazon by as much as 80 per cent in some areas.

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