JBS, the world’s largest beef producer, has bought livestock
raised in illegally deforested areas in the state of Para, according to a
recent investigation by IBAMA, the Brazilian environment agency. Greenpeace has
cut ties with the company, a pioneer of ‘zero deforestation’ pledges, as a
IBAMA’s Operação Carne Fria (Operation Cold Meat), which started 10 months ago, revealed last week that two slaughterhouses belonging to JBS, a Brazilian company, have bought 49,468 heads of cattle from embargoed ranches.
The operation has uncovered a total of 14 slaughterhouses – including the two owned by JBS – that have bought 58,879 heads of cattle from 26 embargoed farms.
The revelations represent something of a ‘perfect storm’ for the Brazilian beef industry, coming hot on the heels of an even larger scandal, involving the corrupt evasion of crucial sanitary controls.
That scandal, stemming from a
separate government investigation, led the EU and China to briefly suspend
imports, after Brazilian federal police revealed evidence of widespread bribery
of health inspectors to turn a blind eye to the processing of rotten meat and
other unsanitary practices.
IBAMA imposes embargoes on
ranches that are found to have committed illegalities, such as illegal
deforestation or other types of environmental damage. An embargoed ranch is
banned from any kind of economic activity, including raising livestock or
These slaughterhouses are now banned from further purchases
of cattle until they can put in place new measures to verify the origin of the
livestock they buy. The beef producers and ranches have been fined a total of
R$264.28 million (US$85 million) by IBAMA. JBS alone has been fined R$24.7
million (US$8 million).
JBS, which exports beef to over 150 countries, has denied wrongdoing and told Reporter Brasil, a news agency, that “the company does not buy livestock from ranches that practice illegal deforestation”.
According to Reporter Brasil, JBS
and other meat producers bought cattle directly from embargoed ranches and also
through intermediary farms, where cattle of illegal origin was “laundered”. Eder
Marquez, owner of one of the embargoed farms, confirmed to Repórter Brasil that
he sold cattle to JBS.
IBAMA has revealed that
laundering usually involves illegal ranches issuing transportation documents
that make it look like the livestock sold to slaughterhouses comes from legal
According to IBAMA, this practice should have been picked up
by Para’s agricultural agency, Adepará. Leandro Aranha, an IBAMA agent in Para,
told Reporter Brasil that “when Adepará says that there’s no cattle in [an
embargoed area], but we find out that in fact there is […] then either Adepará
is actively participating in laundering or it is concealing information about
cattle ranching in embargoed areas”.
Eco, a Brazilian environment news agency, alleges that the Brazilian
federal government has attempted to cover up the situation by stopping IBAMA
from releasing the information to the press. According to O Eco, such attempts
fell short, as IBAMA had already informed journalists from Reporter Brasil and
Globo about the investigation and its findings.
On Friday, 24 March, Heitor Moura Gomes, a federal judge in
Para suspended IBAMA’s
embargo of JBS’s slaughterhouses alleging that the purchase of illegal cattle
was an exception to the company’s usual practices. Strangely, Folha
de Sao Paulo, a Brazilian newspaper, quoted Moura Gomes as saying that JBS
only bought 20,000 heads of cattle from embargoed areas, contradicting IBAMA’s
This is not the first time JBS has been accused of illegal
practices. In 2015, it
was revealed that the company had bought cattle from a rancher connected to
large-scale illegal deforestation and fraud. The latest illegalities are
contrary to the beef
moratorium agreed by the major meat producers – among them JBS – in
Brazil in 2009, when they committed to not sourcing livestock from illegally
announced that it is suspending negotiations with JBS related to the
implementation of the beef moratorium until the company can demonstrate that it
is serious about combating illegal deforestation, slave labour and illegalities
committed in indigenous reservations and protected areas. Greenpeace has
denounced the lack of enforcement in Brazil, which allows such practices by the
meat industry to persist.