As the Amazon burns, UK supermarkets still sell beef from firm fined for illegal deforestation


Sainsbury’s and Morrisons among supermarkets still stocking corned beef from JBS – the São Paulo meatpacking giant fined £6.5m for illegal Amazon deforestation

Earthsight researchers identified beef supplied by JBS – the notorious Brazilian meatpacking firm – in Princes corned beef and several supermarket products in the UK and Europe. Photo: Earthsight

  • The UK’s £10m to tackle Amazon fires is only one-tenth of what it spent on Brazilian beef in 2018.
  • Sainsbury’s and Morrisons among supermarkets still stocking corned beef from JBS – the São Paulo meatpacking giant fined £6.5m for illegal Amazon deforestation. A quarter of a million cans are consumed in the UK each day.
  • JBS, a firm responsible for nearly 50% of the EU’s Brazilian beef purchases, has been dogged by deforestation, human rights violation and corruption allegations.

30 August 2019 | IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The £10m committed by the UK to help tackle the Amazon forest fires is only one-tenth of the amount it spent on importing Brazilian beef in 2018, while UK supermarkets continue to stock corned beef products from a firm fined for illegal Amazon deforestation, new Earthsight research has revealed. 

The destruction caused by the Amazon forest fires – lit illegally to clear land to rear cattle – has caused global outrage and led the UK and other G7 members to offer support. 

However, trade analysis by the London-based NGO shows how the UK’s donation pales in comparison to its purchases of the country’s beef. In 2018, the UK imported more than €106m (£96m) of Brazilian beef – almost 20% of the total €584m (£530m) which entered Europe. 

Meanwhile, the G7 donation was similarly meagre. Cumulatively, G7 nations imported $737.9m (£605.2m) of Brazilian beef last year – their €20m (£18.1m) aid offer would only cover 10 days of imports.

The global 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.

As the Amazon remained ablaze, Earthsight research this week found UK supermarkets continuing to stock Brazilian corned beef products from JBS, the world’s largest meat-packing firm and its most notorious.

Sainsbury's and Morrisons were identified as selling products with beef from JBS. Morrisons use the Brazilian firm’s beef for their own-brand offering, while some of the Princes corned beef stocked in Sainsbury’s also originates from JBS.

Based on the typical price for the market-leading Princes product, Earthsight estimates the retail value of the UK’s corned beef imports from Brazil annually at £251m. This makes the UK’s £10m offer in aid equivalent to the same amount it spends every two weeks on Brazilian corned beef. The country’s supermarkets sell an estimated quarter of a million cans every day.

Shipping records and trade data obtained by Earthsight indicate that almost half of this corned beef is supplied by JBS, a firm which has been the subject of a stream of scandals in recent years, involving slave labour, rotten meat, systematic bribery of Brazilian officials and links to deforestation.

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.

In an analysis published yesterday, JBS was identified as being the firm most likely to be linked to the destruction, based on the location of its slaughterhouses.

The new Earthsight research follows on from our May investigation which also named Lidl and Asda along with Italian brand Simmenthal and European retail giant Carrefour as stocking JBS corned beef.

Europe is the destination for around one-third of all globally traded commodities associated with deforestation. The UK is one of the 10 largest destinations for Brazilian beef exports.

It is evident that European retail giants who continue to sanction the sale of JBS corned beef products are in danger of deepening Brazil's deforestation epidemic.

Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and others issued a plea this week for EU leaders to end complicity in the Amazon fires by passing new laws guaranteeing products sold in Europe are deforestation-free. They also called for a halt to a large EU trade deal with Brazil and neighbouring Latin American countries which threatens to make the problem worse.

The recent EU rhetoric on eradicating deforestation from supply chains must be turned into tangible action to ensure consumers are not potentially helping fan the flames of the Amazon’s destruction.   

Sam Lawson, director at Earthsight, said: “Our new evidence demonstrates yet again that the private sector cannot be relied upon to sort this problem out. It also reveals how the UK government’s donation to tackle the fires pales into insignificance with its failure to prevent the country’s consumers unwittingly contributing to this Amazon disaster.”

Editor’s Notes

Responses from the supermarkets and JBS to the allegations mentioned here can be found in Earthsight’s original story, published in May 2019.

Images of products on sale at supermarkets are available.

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