More suspect Amazon beef is US-bound after facilities in deforestation hotspots approved

23.09.2021

US imports of beef from the Amazon have risen in recent months. Credit: Shutterstock

London, 23 September 2021 - Beef sold in the US is increasingly likely to be linked to illegal deforestation amid growing exports from Brazilian Amazon states and as more slaughterhouses in the region receive sanitary permits to sell to the American market.

While export licenses are related to food safety assessments, not environmental ones, the fact that more meatpackers based in deforestation hotspots have free access to the US underlines the need for binding regulations to stem the country’s illegal deforestation footprint overseas.

An Earthsight analysis has found that two slaughterhouses in Amazon states have been approved for export to the American market in the past 10 months.

Marfrig, one of Brazil’s three largest meatpackers, had its Chupinguaia facility in Rondônia state approved in August, while a slaughterhouse operated by Vale Grande in Mato Grosso was issued a permit in December.

Rondônia, also home to a JBS facility that already exports to the US, is one of Brazil’s most heavily deforested Amazon states. It has been plagued by land grabbing and environmental backsliding by local authorities.

A Brazilian state larger than Texas that straddles the Amazon and Cerrado biomes, Mato Grosso is known for some of the highest levels of forest loss in Brazil. JBS, a firm blighted by years of alleged illegal deforestation and environmental crimes, also has two facilities in the state that can sell to US markets.

Of 34 facilities able to ship to the US, almost 20 per cent are in the Amazon region.

US purchases of Brazilian beef have accelerated since February 2020, when a ban on raw beef imports related to food safety concerns was lifted.

Rondônia’s beef exports to the US are up by two thirds this year. Nearly a sixth of all Brazilian beef imported by US firms now comes from deforestation-stricken Amazon states.

The annual rate of deforestation in Rondônia has accelerated from 435 km2 in 2010 to over 1,000 km2 every year since 2015. Forest loss, mostly driven by cattle ranching, increased by over 100 per cent in July 2021 compared to the same month last year.

The state is home to some of the most threatened protected areas in the country. A recent study revealed that 94 per cent of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon and Cerrado biomes are likely illegal.

Rather than tackling these issues, Rondônia’s legislators have made them worse. In April they approved a bill that reduced the size of Jaci-Paraná, a 200,000-hectare protected area, by nearly 90 per cent. Federal prosecutors say the bill is unconstitutional.

In such an environment, the inability of meatpackers to track their indirect suppliers, aligned with the absence of sound due diligence tools for importers, means US shoppers are ever-more likely to be buying beef tied to illegal deforestation of the Amazon.

The analysis provides yet another example of why voluntary corporate commitments are inadequate to stem the Amazon’s ongoing destruction. It is therefore essential the US’s planned law designed to halt the country’s illegal deforestation footprint globally is approved.

To preserve the critical ecosystems in the Amazon and beyond, the law must be robust enough to stamp out supply chain wrongdoing – the planet and its people rely on it.

Rubens Carvalho, Earthsight’s head of deforestation research, said: “Amid growing trade from Amazon deforestation hotspots it is increasingly urgent that US importers implement robust monitoring practices to ensure their purchases are not contributing to Brazil’s environmental crisis. The US Congress must swiftly approve binding regulations to mandate companies to do so.”

Notes to editors:

  • Earthsight is a UK-based non-profit organisation that uses in-depth investigations to expose environmental and social crime, injustice and the links to global consumption.
  • The full analysis, Amazon slaughterhouses eye greater share of American pie as Brazil beef sales surge, along with company responses can be read here.

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