Supermarkets, fast food restaurants and pet food in Europe linked to indigenous rights abuses in Brazil

11.05.2022

Grave cross of indigenous leader Marcos Veron. Credit: Earthsight / De Olho nos Ruralistas

May 11, 2022, London – British supermarkets and a major fast food outlet’s supply chains, along with German-produced pet food, are linked to indigenous rights abuses in Brazil, an investigation can reveal.

‘There Will Be Blood’, published today, has linked some of Britain’s best-known supermarkets, UK branches of KFC and pet food brands in Germany to the ongoing repression of an indigenous group forcibly evicted from its ancestral land.

The investigation by Earthsight, a London-based environmental group, and De Olho nos Ruralistas, which monitors agribusiness in Brazil, uncovered the complex supply chains of KFC, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Aldi and Iceland, among others, in the UK, as well as pet food sold in Germany by Lidl, Aldi, Netto, Edeka and other major retailers.

It found that one of the UK suppliers of poultry products to the supermarkets and KFC, Worcestershire-based Westbridge Foods, is a major buyer of frozen and marinated chicken connected to a controversial farm in Brazil’s Mato Grosso do Sul state.

Cattle baron Jacintho Honório da Silva Filho, famed for helping to transform Brazil into an agricultural powerhouse, bought Brasília do Sul in 1966, ushering in a period of intense deforestation of Takuara, which had remained largely forested until then. The farm’s prosperity further cemented his power and political influence.

The 9,700-hectare farm, Brasília do Sul, is built on the ancestral land, known as Takuara, of the Guarani Kaiowá indigenous group, which was forcibly evicted in the early 1950s to make way for big business.

Rubens Carvalho, Earthsight’s head of deforestation research, said: “These findings reinforce the need for upcoming secondary legislation of the UK Environment Act to include, to the widest extent possible, the protection of indigenous land rights, and to cover key commodities, including soy and soy-fed chicken.” 

In Germany, Paulsen Food was also found to be a major buyer of chicken products from the same source in Brazil. Paulsen Food is a supplier of poultry products to Saturn Petcare and Animonda Petcare, which supply pet food to some of Germany’s largest retailers. 

The Guarani Kaiowá’s attempts to regain access to their ancestral land have been brutally suppressed, including through violent evictions and the aggressive use of the courts to stymie them.

The violence culminated in the 2003 murder of Kaiowá leader Marcos Veron, who was beaten to death when armed Brasília do Sul workers and hired gunmen attacked the camp the indigenous people had set up on the disputed territory.

Three were convicted for the attack, but da Silva Filho never faced justice. He died in 2019 aged 102. No-one was ever sentenced for Veron’s murder.

The Guarani Kaiowá’s constitutional rights continue to be suppressed by a hostile government, inequality in the justice system and powerful farming interests.

Meanwhile, da Silva Filho’s children control Brasília do Sul, which now produces soy – one of the main ingredients in modern animal feed.

Local sources told Earthsight and De Olho nos Ruralistas the soy is sold to large cooperatives and traders, including Lar Cooperativa Agroindustrial, one of Brazil’s largest poultry producers.

Trade records show Westbridge imported over 37,000 tonnes of frozen and marinated chicken from Lar between 2018 and 2021 – about a third of the chicken the Brazilian firm sent to the EU and UK over the period. The records also revealed that Lar’s only major European customer for chicken products for pet food is Hamburg-based Paulsen Food, which bought about 14,000 tonnes of them between 2017 and 2021.

MEP Delara Burkhardt, shadow rapporteur for the Socialist and Democrats Group in the European Parliament, said: “The case of the Guarani Kaiowá as revealed by this report sadly illustrates why we urgently need EU rules against imported deforestation, not only for nature but also for people. Land-grabbing and violations of land ownership rights, especially of indigenous people, are common practices to gain land for agricultural production - also for European markets. It’s an ecological catastrophe and a human tragedy.”

Burkhardt is calling for the internationally recognised right to free, prior and informed consent to use and convert land to be made an integral part of the forthcoming EU deforestation framework to strengthen local communities.

Ends


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.
  • There Will be Blood: The ugly truth about cheap chicken can be read here.
  • Major retailers in Germany including Aldi Nord, Aldi Süd, Lidl, dm-drogerie markt, Edeka, Netto Marken-Discount, Rewe Markt and Rossmann sell Saturn’s pet food under their own brand names. Animonda products can be found at Fressnapf, Europe’s largest pet food seller, and online vendors Zooplus, Medpets and Vetsend.
  • Westbridge, Paulsen, Lar, KFC, Iceland, OnlinePets (which owns Medpets and Vetsend) and the Jacintho family did not reply to Earthsight’s requests for comment.
  • Asda, Aldi and Sainsbury’s denied links to either Brazilian or Lar chicken, without elaborating.
  • Saturn, Rewe, Rossmann and dm denied links to Brasília do Sul’s soy, without elaborating.
  • The report includes the companies’ full responses to Earthsight’s findings.
  • The experts who used the terms genocide or extermination to describe the treatment of indigenous groups in Brazil’s Mato Grosso do Sul state during interviews with our team are anthropologist and historian Jorge Eremites de Oliveira, historian and lecturer in law Roseli Aparecida Stefanes Pacheco, federal prosecutor Marco Antonio Delfino and Guarani Kaiowá leader Valdelice Veron.
  • The UK Environment Act, approved by Parliament last year, will ban the use of commodities linked to illegal deforestation in UK commercial activities once it comes into force in a few years. The law does not directly address human rights violations – a glaring shortcoming for rules that should not only aim to tackle Britain’s role in driving forest loss but also the human cost of agribusiness expansion. 
  • While soy is covered by the current EU Commission’s Proposal for a regulation on deforestation-free products, chicken is not. This means chicken importers will not be under the same monitoring obligations. Campaigners have called on the EU to expand the scope of products covered by the regulation, both by adding commodities such as poultry to the list, as well as to cover all products that contain, have been fed with or have been made using any of the covered commodities.

Photos, video and infographics can be downloaded here

For more information please contact: Clare Sterling at claresterling@earthsight.org.uk, Mob/Signal/WhatsApp +44 7808 725096. 

Read the UK press release here.

Read the press release for Germany here.

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