Beef Obsession and the Rampant Deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest

13 May 2022

Despite the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest being constant news headline across the world, no effective actions have been taken to prevent total devastation of the region.

Scientists, activists and the general population across the world are tirelessly asking the ones in the position of power to take this matter seriously and stop this situation escalating further, as it could cause irreversible consequences for the Amazon, our planet and future generations.

According to recent data from INPE, Brazil’s national space research agency, deforestation in the region hit a record high, totaling 1,012 square km (390 square miles) in the month of April 2022, doubling the area compared to the same month in the previous year.

In the first four months of 2022, deforestation of the Amazon increased 69% compared to the same period in 2021. Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, has weakened environmental protection since he took office and firmly believes that more farming and mining will solve poverty affecting the region.

“Some government and business leaders are saying one thing – but doing another. Simply put, they are lying – and the results will be catastrophic”, said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

Who’s the culprit?

The livestock industry is responsible for as much as 19% of global greenhouse gases emissions, contributing to deforestation and climate change. No doubt, cattle ranching is responsible for the majority of the Amazon deforestation.

In January 2022, a Bloomberg investigation concluded that JBS, the world’s largest meat processor, was “one of the biggest drivers of Amazon deforestation”.

JBS is the largest meat processor in the world, producing factory-processed beef, chicken and pork, and also selling by-products from the processing of these meats.

Brazilian Jose Batista Sobrinho founded JBS in 1953 and its expansion has come under the leadership of his three sons: Jose Batista Junior (known as Junior Friboi), Wesley Batista and Joesley Batista.

The company employs 250,000 people globally, is listed on the Brazilian stock exchange and desperately seeking an IPO in the United States. Top investors include the state-owned Brazilian development bank BNDES, asset manager Black Rock, Vanguard, Santander and Barclays banks.

In March 2022, JBS announced its fourth quarter and full 2021 results, achieving net revenue of US$72.25 billion in 2021, a year-on-year increase of 29.8%.

The company owns a portfolio of brands globally, including Swift, Pilgrim’s, Moy Park, Tulip, Kerry Meats, Randall Parker Foods, Aberdeen Black, Country Pride, Primo, Great Southern, Danepak, Dalehead, Aspen Ridge, 5Star, Canadian Diamond Beef, Beehive, Blue Ribbon Beef, Clear River Farms, Vivera, Huon, Seara, Friboi, Rivalea, King’s Group, amongst many others.

In 2021, JBS processed 26.8 million cattle, 4.9 billion chickens and 46.7 million pigs, but this is a conservative number, given the lack of transparency in the industry.

JBS’s commitment to be ‘Net Zero’ by 2040 does not seem realistic or achievable, as JBS increased its annual greenhouse gas emissions by 51% between 2016 and 2021, based on the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, IATP’s latest calculations.

Source: IATP 2022*Million Metric Tonnes CO2 equivalent

In order to stop deforestation, a key factor is being able to identify the origin of the meat in the supply chain. This is one of the biggest issues for JBS, as the company has been accused of “cattle laundering”, the shuffling of cattle from ranch to ranch in order to conceal their illegal origins.

The process is tricky and difficult to track. The cattle are bred where deforestation occurs, moved to other properties where it is nurtured through adolescence and then taken to “fattening” farms. The cattle are then transferred to processing plants where they are slaughtered and butchered ready to be shipped/exported.

Source: Greenpeace

In October 2021, Brazilian federal prosecutors concluded that JBS had purchased over 300,000 cattle from ranches with “irregularities” in the previous year, including illegal deforestation in the Amazon region.

The biggest consumers

China/Hong Kong is the largest buyer of Brazilian beef, the United States becoming its second biggest buyer. The US is home to 4% of the world’s population and eats approximately 20% of its beef.

“We should be paying the Brazilians not to cut down their forest. We got to cut ours down.  We got to cut ours down.  We got the benefit of it.  Because we’ve got these third-world countries — not third world; some are — in Africa and in — and in South America — we got to — the industrial countries have to help”, said US president Joe Biden at a speech on Earth Day.

On the same day, Biden signed an executive order to combat commodity-driven deforestation globally, including in forest clearing to produce agricultural commodities like beef, soy, and palm oil.

According to the White House, the department of state would lead development of a report on whole-of-government approaches to reduce or eliminate U.S. purchases of agricultural commodities grown on illegally or recently deforested lands, including through public-private partnerships to incentivize sustainable sourcing.

A recent investigation by The Washington Post reports that the US government is unable to track the beef that has been imported into the country. Once they pass through the inspection process, all labels are removed, making it impossible to identify their origin. Federal agencies don’t track the domestic sale of imported beef and retailers have no obligation to inform consumers about the origin of the beef.

Additionally, US agency that authorises Brazil’s meatpacking plants to export to the US says it doesn’t try to determine whether operations cause environmental damage. The American consumer is unable to identify the source of the beef they are consuming.

JBS and the UK

“JBS is one of the world’s worst climate offenders and that’s why we’re urging its key customers like giant supermarkets Carrefour, Costco and Tesco to drop JBS urgently,” said Alex Wijeratna, campaign director at Mighty Earth. “No company that buys meat from JBS can claim to be serious about climate change”, added Wijeratna.

Paul Morozzo, forests campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said: “Here’s yet more evidence of the fact that JBS – a major meat supplier to many UK supermarkets – shows absolutely no intention of ending its climate wrecking activities”.

“Tesco recently claimed that remaining a customer of JBS was the best way to influence it. But the only way to show JBS that destroying the planet for meat production won’t be tolerated is to stop doing business with it immediately”, added Morozzo.

UK supermarkets say they don’t buy directly from JBS, but buy meat from Tulip and Moy Park, both owned by JBS.

Moy Park is one of Europe’s leading poultry producers and Northern Ireland’s largest private sector business. Dalehead is a division of Tulip, supplying Waitrose with over 400 products, including fresh pork, bacon, sausage, cooked meats and lamb.

In 2021, Pilgrim’s Pride, a JBS brand, acquired Kerry Consumer Foods in the UK and Ireland for GB680 million. JBS also acquired Randall Parker Foods (Wales).

“JBS is using the same greenwashing tactics employed by oil and gas majors for decades. It presents itself as a company with genuine climate ambition but fails to disclose its full emissions so they can be compared with the company’s public communications. And as this research shows, JBS’s emissions are increasing substantially, not decreasing”, said Hazel Healy, UK Editor of climate investigative news outlet DeSmog.

Source: IATP 2022*Million Metric Tonnes CO2 equivalent

There are a large number of players, including governments, corporations, PR and media companies, politicians, all trying to distract us from the fact that this is an extremely serious issue requiring total transparency and urgent attention in order to be resolved. Their “greenwashing babbling” won’t help us fight climate change.

In an attempt to stop the relentless and rampant deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, retailers, supermarkets and the food service across the world must drop JBS and its subsidiaries as a meat supplier.

Additionally, financiers, banks and investors must also stop investing in JBS and its subsidiaries. Without these actions, the deforestation will most certainly continue. We are running out of time!

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