POSTED ON MIGHTY EARTH
BY: Glenn Hurowitz, Mat Jacobson, Etelle Higonnet, and Lucia von Reusner
The burning of the Amazon and the darkening of skies from Sao Paulo, Brazil, to Santa Cruz, Bolivia, have captured the world’s conscience. Much of the blame for the fires has rightly fallen on Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for directly encouraging the burning of forests and the seizure of Indigenous Peoples’ lands.
But the incentive for the destruction comes from large-scale international meat and soy animal feed companies like JBS and Cargill, and the global brands like Stop & Shop, Costco, McDonald’s, Walmart/Asda, and Sysco that buy from them and sell to the public. It is these companies that are creating the international demand that finances the fires and deforestation.
The transnational nature of their impact can be seen in the current crisis. Their destruction is not confined to Brazil. Just over the border, in the Bolivian Amazon, 2.5 million acres have burned, largely to clear land for new cattle and soy animal feed plantations, in just a few weeks. Paraguay is experiencing similar devastation.
New maps and analysis from Mighty Earth, based on data from NASA, CONAB, and Imazon and released here for the first time, show which companies are most closely linked to the burning:
Both domestic and international demand for beef and leather has fueled the rapid expansion of the cattle industry into the Amazon. From 1993 to 2013, the cattle herd in the Amazon expanded by almost 200% reaching 60 million head of cattle. While deforestation for cattle had been reduced thanks to both private sector and government action, the new wave of deforestation this year shows that the large international beef and leather companies and their customers and financiers continue to create markets for deforestation-based cattle.
The effects of this demand can be seen in the clustering of deforestation near slaughterhouses and roads that have access to slaughterhouses. The company most exposed to deforestation risk in the maps above is JBS, both Brazil’s largest meatpacker and the world’s largest meat company. JBS, like other major Brazilian meatpackers, signed the 2009 Cattle Moratorium, pledging not to buy beef from cattle connected to deforestation. However, investigations by government and NGOs have repeatedly found serious violations by JBS, including through laundering cattle.
These scandals reached their apotheosis with the Cold Meat (Carne Fria) scandal in 2017, in which the Brazilian government enforcement agencies produced extensive evidence showing that JBS was sourcing cattle from protected areas. This and other investigations found that JBS violated both government and its own policies by buying laundered cattle that had been raised in areas linked to deforestation and then transported to “clean ranches” to evade the requirements. The two brothers who control the company were imprisoned for their role in corruption scandals in Brazil.
Soy supply chains work differently from cattle, and that is reflected in the maps above. Much of the current wave of deforestation has happened close to BR-163. Big soy farmers routinely transport their soy down Highway BR-163 to Cargill’s major port at Santarem, where it is put on ships and sent around the world to be fed to livestock in Europe, China, and elsewhere. There are similar dynamics around other highways on the map. Cargill, Bunge and other leading soy traders have participated in the Amazon Soy Moratorium in Brazil for the last dozen years, in which they committed to cease sourcing from suppliers who engaged in deforestation for soy. Overall, the Soy Moratorium has been a major success, virtually eliminating deforestation for soy.
However, the Soy Moratorium contained two major loopholes. First, the big soy traders can continue to purchase soy from farmers who engage in large-scale deforestation, as long as the deforestation is for crops other than soy. The location of the deforestation close to BR-163 suggests that farmers are exploiting this loophole to continue deforestation even as they sell soy to major traders like Cargill and Bunge. The location of the deforestation close to BR-163 suggests that farmers are exploiting this loophole to continue deforestation even as they sell soy to major traders like Cargill and Bunge.
Second, the Soy Moratorium only applies to the Brazilian Amazon. Major soy traders have continued to drive deforestation in the Bolivian Amazon Basin, the Brazilian Cerrado, and the Gran Chaco of Argentina and Paraguay, creating a major incentive for the rapid deforestation in Bolivia in the last several weeks. Mighty Earth’s reports The Ultimate Mystery Meat and Still At It showed Cargill’s extensive links to deforestation in the Bolivian Amazon basin, and its repeated refusal to take action against key suppliers even when confronted with repeated evidence. And as much attention as the Amazon is getting, Brazil’s half a billion acre, highly biodiverse forest-savannah mosaic known as the Cerrado has been even more deforested. While 80% of the Amazon is still intact, cattle, soy, and agriculture interests have destroyed more than half of the Cerrado, putting this ecosystem at even greater risk. Mighty Earth found that in the Cerrado, where deforestation has continued, two companies were primarily responsible for driving deforestation, Cargill and Bunge.
Cargill is the largest trader of soy from Brazil and the world’s largest food and agriculture company. Mighty Earth’s July 2019 report The Worst Company in the World profiled Cargill’s extensive deforestation in South America and elsewhere around the world, building on previous investigations in Bolivia, Brazilian Cerrado, Paraguay, and Argentina.
Although Bunge is a bigger player in the Cerrado, across South America - in Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina, Mighty Earth’s previous analyses of deforestation linked to soy animal feed in South America found Cargill most closely associated with deforestation. The company has refused to discontinue suppliers Mighty Earth found engaged in deforestation after evidence was shared with them, and has bitterly resisted efforts to expand successful industry-wide platforms for monitoring and policing deforestation to South America outside the Brazilian Amazon.