Supermarket chains in Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom are taking steps to reduce or eliminate sales of beef linked to deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon.
This decision comes in response to a 2021 investigation from environmental advocacy group Mighty Earth and news organization Repórter Brasil. The report finds major Brazilian meat producers including JBS S.A., Marfrig, and Minerva indirectly source cattle from illegally deforested areas in the Amazon.
“This is a watershed moment for JBS and the entire cattle sector in Brazil,” Nico Muzi, former Europe Director of Mighty Earth and co-founder of a new venture to transform the food industry, tells Food Tank. “The very fact that European supermarkets across four countries have taken concrete commercial actions against Brazilian beef over deforestation is a turning point for the industry.”
Lidl Netherlands announced their decision to stop selling all beef from South American origin beginning in 2022. Aldi Germany has also announced they would stop selling Brazilian beef altogether as of this year. And Albert Heijn, the largest supermarket chain in the Netherlands, said it would stop sourcing beef from Brazil for all of its stores. Chains including Auchan France, Carrefour Belgium, Delhaize Belgium, Princes Group, and Sainsbury’s UK also pledged to remove specific products tied to JBS S.A., including corned beef and beef jerky.
A spokesperson at Lidl Netherlands tells Food Tank the supermarket chain will stop selling beef from Brazil “in order to protect biodiversity and prevent deforestation,” and that this commitment is “a central theme in [their] purchasing policy.”
The research from Mighty Earth and Repórter Brasil outlines multiple cases of alleged “cattle laundering.” According to these sources, Brazil’s major meat producers source cattle raised and fed on farms that are officially sanctioned or embargoed. These farms are linked to illegal deforestation, or tied to destruction in other critical biospheres like the Cerrado woody savannah and the Pantanal tropical wetlands.
The report describes how the cattle are transferred from recently deforested areas to properties with allegedly clean records for final fattening. Companies like JBS S.A. then purchase the cows and process them in slaughterhouses in low-deforestation areas. Although some of these transfers are legitimate, “others are mere bureaucratic illusions,” according to the report, and aim to obscure the origins of the cattle.
Data from Imazon, a Brazilian research institute tracking Amazon deforestation since 2008, shows that new deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is at its highest annual level in a decade. The Guardian and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) recently released a series of investigations exposing the link between deforestation and the Brazilian beef trade.
“Deforestation driven by cattle expansion and landgrabs of Indigenous lands in the Amazon are two sides of the same coin. Less demand for Amazon-destroying beef in Europe means less pressure on Indigenous lands,” Muzi tells Food Tank.
A 2020 report from Amnesty International also reveals that Brazil’s JBS S.A. contributed to alleged human rights and environmental abuses in the Amazon region. The report argues that the company purchased cattle that illegally grazed on an Indigenous reserve, as well as two other protected rainforest areas.
In 2020, a coalition of Indigenous groups from the Colombian and Brazilian Amazon and several international non-governmental organizations sued Groupe Casino, the owner of Brazilian supermarket Pão de Açúcar. They accused Casino of systemic violations of human rights and environmental laws in Brazilian and Colombian supply chains.
According to evidence compiled and submitted for the lawsuit, Groupe Casino regularly bought beef from three JBS slaughterhouses. The slaughterhouses sourced cattle from 592 suppliers responsible for at least 50,000 hectares of deforestation between 2008 and 2020, an area two times the size of the French city of Marseille.
The Brazilian beef industry has faced criticism from environmental campaigns for its inability to regulate the supply chain from birth to slaughter with transparency. But JBS S.A. claims it is “committed to combating, discouraging and eliminating deforestation of its supply chain in the Amazon.”
In 2021, the company began operating the Transparent Livestock Farming Platform. The tool, which uses blockchain technology, aims to trace the beef cattle production chain in the Amazon and allow JBS suppliers to see whether their supply chain is socially and environmentally compliant. JBS claims all of its beef cattle suppliers will sign up to the program by the end of 2025.
“It’s unfortunate that the bad practices of the world’s biggest beef company, JBS, are tarnishing the reputation of the entire cattle sector in Brazil, closing doors in premium markets like the EU,” Muzi tells Food Tank. “Because of its size and influence, JBS has the power to transform the cattle industry in Brazil and end deforestation driven by cattle production.”
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Photo courtesy of Matt Palmer, Unsplash