G7 and UK Amazon aid pledges are meagre compared to their Brazilian beef purchases, while supermarkets still stocking high-risk Brazilian beef products as government responses are found wanting
When news filtered out of Brazil
in August that forest fires were ravaging the Amazon at record levels,
international reaction was quick and damning.
Images of the world’s most
biodiverse landmass up in smoke and the revelation that more than 70,000 fires
had been chronicled in 2019 (an 85% increase from 2018) triggered global
From presidential statements and
papal calls for action to viral celebrity social media posts, condemnation of
the Amazon’s destruction spread in equally unprecedented fashion.
But in president Jair Bolsonaro,
Brazil has a premier who favours commodity cultivation over conservation and as
the #Amazon trend recedes and media move elsewhere, questions remain over what,
if any meaningful change the attention will deliver.
News of the arson in the Amazon
has led governments to offer support, retailers to promise action and a fresh
spotlight to be placed on the impact of global commodity consumption.
Demand for beef is by far the
largest cause of deforestation in the Amazon, where 2000 square kilometres were
destroyed in July – a 278% rise on the same month in 2018.
Now, new Earthsight research
reveals how G7 aid commitments are dwarfed by their imports of potentially
risky, deforestation-laced Brazilian beef and that UK supermarkets are still
selling beef from a firm fined for illegally clearing the Amazon.
In the wake of the fire
statistics being released by Inpe, Brazil’s National Institute for Space
Research, the UK government said it would donate £10m in aid and $20m was
offered in partnership with its G7 allies.
However, the sums pale in
comparison to the amount it forks out on beef from Brazil.
In 2018, the UK imported more
than £96m of Brazilian beef – almost 20% of the total £530m which entered
Europe, Earthsight analysis of shipment trade data shows.
Meanwhile, the G7 collectively
imported $737.9m (£605.2m) of Brazilian beef last year – their $20m (£16.4m)
aid offer would only cover 10 days of imports.
Greenpeace urged the G7 not to
use the Amazon fires and criticisms of Bolsonaro’s anti- environment agenda to
“disguise their own failures to act at home”.
“G7 countries must stop fuelling
the destruction of the Amazon through the import of agricultural products
associated with deforestation and soil degradation,” a
Greenpeace statement said.
“Sweeping change to the global
food system is needed, including a 50% cut in meat and dairy consumption by
2050 and rich countries such as the G7 should reduce that even further.”
Europe alone is the destination for
around one-third of all globally traded commodities associated with
deforestation. It is also Brazil’s second biggest trading partner – 19% of all
EU soy imports last year originated from Brazil and one-tenth of all Brazilian
beef for export is destined for the region.
The UK is in the top 10 destinations
for the country’s beef and new Earthsight research has revealed how
supermarkets are still sourcing products from a firm guilty of illegal Amazon
UK and European supermarkets continue to sell beef products sourced from JBS in Brazil.
Sainsbury’s and Morrisons were
identified as selling products with beef from JBS by Earthsight in August.
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.
Earthsight analysis reveals that
JBS is supplying 46% of the Brazilian beef imported into the EU, 68% of that
imported into the US and almost all the beef that is imported into Canada.
The world’s largest meatpacking
firm has been the subject of a stream of scandals in recent years, involving
slave labour, rotten meat, systematic bribery of officials and links to
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 £6.5m. JBS 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.
US campaign group Mighty
Earth identified JBS
in late August as being the firm most likely to be linked to the Amazon fires
destruction, based on the location of its slaughterhouses.
“From 1993 to 2013, the cattle
herd in the Amazon expanded by almost 200% reaching 60 million head of
cattle,” The Companies Behind the Burning of the Amazon report
“While deforestation for cattle
had been reduced thanks to both private sector and government action… large
international beef and leather companies and their customers and financiers
continue to create markets for deforestation-based cattle.”
The new Earthsight research
follows on from our May investigation which
also named Lidl and Asda along with Italian brand Simmenthal and European
retailer Carrefour as stocking JBS corned beef.
Fires in the Amazon in 2019 incresaed 85% from the previous year.
Supermarkets have remained silent
on their suspect sourcing policies since the fires. Brands including Burger
King, Walmart, Costco and Nestle were also called out by Mighty Earth for
complicity in the Amazon destruction via their beef and soy purchases.
Meanwhile, those who finance
producers and traders of forest-risk commodities are facing renewed scrutiny.
Asset management giant BlackRock
was named by
Friends of the Earth and others last week as among the top three
shareholders in 25 of the world’s largest publicly listed “deforestation-risk”
“BlackRock’s investments are
directly causing the forest fires in the Amazon and deforestation around the
globe,” FoE’s Jeff Conant said.
“By pumping money into the
world’s most destructive agribusiness companies, Blackrock is destroying the
environment and trampling the rights of forest-dwelling people. As the Amazon
burns, BlackRock is reaping the profits of environmental destruction and
Some positive action has been
taken though. Norway and Germany pulled
out as donors to the Brazilian government’s Amazon Fund due to recent
surges in deforestation, while VF Corporation – whose brands include North
Face, Timberland and Vans – halted
leather imports from Brazil.
Consumers are taking a stand too.
An online petition demanding
Morrisons stop selling JBS beef, triggered by Earthsight’s research, had
garnered in excess of 230,000 signatures as of early September.
A regulatory response?
France and Ireland threatened not
to ratify the Mercosur free-trade agreement after the fires hit the headlines,
while Finland – which currently holds the EU presidency – said the EU should
consider a ban on Brazilian beef imports.
“Recent actions in Brazil in
particular risk leading toward a vicious spiral toward further destruction of
the rain forest,” Finland’s Minister for the Environment and Climate Krista
in a letter to the EU. “The international community cannot let the
development reach a point of no return.”
However, no concrete plan has yet
materialised on what action may be taken on the Mercosur deal, of which Brazil
would be the largest beneficiary in Latin America, or in addition to the
monetary offers put forward.
Corporate brands have issued
similarly worthy rhetoric and promises to remove deforestation from their
supply chains over the years but have failed miserably.
In July it was estimated
million hectares of global forests have been destroyed for commodities
in the past decade – a period in which the largest consumer brands pledged to
Greenpeace, FoE and others issued
a plea for EU leaders to move beyond offering aid and not only suspend
the Mercosur agreement (under which Brazil exports could accelerate) but pass
new regulation to guarantee products sold in Europe are deforestation-free.
The plea followed on from an EU publication in July that sought to address deforestation in supply chains.
EU Communication continued to promote ‘voluntary’
corporate action but in mooting the possibility of new EU-wide regulation, it
opened the door to a more substantial solution. Maybe now that the #Amazon is
up in flames; action will be forthcoming.
“European citizens will not
continue to allow further destruction of the forests we all depend on to
stabilise our climate, maintain rainfall, nurture biodiversity and protect the
world’s poorest people,” the NGO letter read.