How much are we willing to pay for our meat obsession?
As the world population continues to grow and predicted to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050, meat consumption is on the increase. According to a study published by Science, between 90 to 99 percent of all deforestation in the tropics is driven directly or indirectly by agribusiness.
Livestock is the leading driver of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest and a key factor of not just CO2 emissions, roughly 14.5% of all human-induced global GHG emissions, but also of methane.
According to IPAM, the Amazon Environmental Research Institute, cattle pastures occupy 75% of the deforested area on public lands in the Amazon. Deforestation of the Amazon and Cerrado are the main drivers of Brazil’s CO2 emissions.
“Squatting is a risk factor for the planet’s climate balance, and it also poses two problems for the livestock sector: illegality and more greenhouse gas emissions,” says IPAM senior researcher Paulo Moutinho.
“A truly low carbon economy in Brazil needs to undergo a comprehensive analysis of the impact of production chains on the worsening of the greenhouse effect. Leaving these emissions aside makes no sense when we have an ongoing climate emergency,” he warns.
A recent study conducted by WWF found that out of the 486 endangered species in the Amazon and Cerrado regions, 484 of them have lost part of their habitat as a result of deforestation.
It’s fair to say we shouldn’t point the finger at one single direction, when you realise that there’s a significant number of worldwide investors and supporters financing deforestation in the region. Complicity must be shared equally.
With that in mind, some fundamental and essential questions must be answered; as to who is to blame and what effective actions can we expect to be taken from world leaders, financiers, governments, corporations and the general public?
JBS, Marfrig and Minerva are Brazil’s largest meat processors and exporters, supplying food chains and supermarkets in Brazil and across the world.
JBS is the world’s largest meat (beef, pork, lamb and poultry) processing company in the world with the largest climate footprint. It has US$ 76 bi in revenues, employs over 250,000 people globally, and has over 70 brands and customers in 190 countries, including Swift, Pilgrim’s Pride, Moy Park, Certified Angus Beef, Gold Kist, Oak Crown, Moyer, Clear River Farms, Geo, and many more.
In 2021, the majority of the company’s revenues were made in the United States (51%), Asia (15%), Brazil (12%) and Europe (7%), and the majority of its exports in 2020 went to China (27.2%).
The company is associated with suppliers linked to deforestation, pollution, slave labour, fires, bribery, land grabbing and invasion of Indigenous peoples’ land, protected areas and reserves.
According to a Mighty Earth report, The Boys from Brazil, JBS, Marfrig and Minerva maintain that they can’t trace its cattle through its supply chain and eliminate cattle linked to deforestation areas.
JBS 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.
“In their emission disclosure and their net-zero target for 2040 JBS fails to take responsibility for an estimated 97% of its emissions footprint, by neglecting emissions from farms and feedlots that are not owned by JBS and emissions related to deforestation. The company plans to continue growth in a GHG emission-intensive industry; we did not find evidence of any planned deep decarbonisation measures”, was reported in the Corporate Climate Responsibility Monitor 2022 assessment (page 84).
“Rather than making noises about being transparent about their supply chains and emissions, why don’t JBS disclose their most recent data? It’s time for JBS to come clean about their global slaughter figures, so we can determine with pinpoint accuracy the scale of their climate footprint”, said Gemma Hoskins, UK director of Mighty Earth.
Fires in the Amazon and Cerrado regions are not naturally occurring events; they usually start intentionally, to clear the land for pasture, illegal logging and land grabbers or to grow animal feed. In September, Brazil’s National Space Research Agency, INPE, reported 41,282 fires in the Amazon rainforest, the highest number since 2010.
The Supporter’s Black List
There are a substantial large number of investors and supporters involved in financing, directly or indirectly, the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest and the Cerrado regions.
An investigation released in June by Global Witness revealed that one of JBS’s supplier, the Seronni dynasty, was allegedly involved in a series of human rights abuses, including the use of slave labour, deforestation, land grabbing and cattle laundering for over a decade. The Seronni’s wealth was gained at the expense of the Amazon deforestation, as well as the exploitation of slave labour.
Grupo Mastrotto, a large Italian producer of leather and upholstery to the clothing, footwear, automotive and boat industries, was also identified as an importer of JBS’s leather linked to the deforestation of the Amazon. Mastrotto supplies the Volkswagen Group, owner of Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Porsche, Seat and Skoda. Other customers include Toyota and Ikea.
The meat industry wouldn’t be able to operate without the support of international finance. The UK, EU and US based-financiers continue to funnel billions to JBS, Marfrig and Minerva, including Barclays, BNP Paribas, Deutsche Bank, Dimensional Fund Advisors Group, Fidelity Management, HSBC, JP Morgan, BlackRock, Santander, Vanguard Group, and many more.
“Banks can no longer pretend they don’t know that their financing and investments fuel deforestation and climate chaos”, said Jérémie Suissa, director of the French organization Notre Affaire à Tous.
Trade data accessed by Global Witness also revealed that in 2020 alone, JBS exported beef products to 160 companies in Europe, 30% went to the UK.
Supermarkets in Europe, the US and the UK are responsible for selling products linked to the Amazon and Cerrado deforestation, including Aldi, Asda, Carrefour, Costco, Iceland, Morrisons, M&S, Tesco and Walmart, amongst others.
Food service companies are also accountable for selling branded and unbranded products sourced from deforested areas in the Amazon and Cerrado regions. They include Burger King, KFC, McDonald’s, Nando’s, Outback Steakhouse, Pizza Hut, Subway, Wendy’s and many more.
According to a damming report by Repórter Brasil, McDonald’s: The Footprint of a Giant, McDonald’s supply chain is exposed to several risks of violations related to Brazil’s rural reality. Deforestation, slave labour, violations of labour laws, and damage to traditional communities are part of the risks directly or indirectly linked to the network that supplies their restaurants.
A Final Appeal
The reality is that we can’t continue doing business as usual and must take immediate action, as the consequences are far too great to our planet and the next generations, some of them already irreversible.
NGOs, researchers, scientists and specialists have proposed various recommendations and solutions to the problem, but the ones accountable for the deforestation and degradation of the Amazon rainforest and Cerrado regions constantly ignore them.
Some of the recommendations by various NGOs, including Mighty Earth and Global Witness outlined below:
• Governments should introduce legislation requiring businesses to identify, prevent, mitigate and report on deforestation and human rights risks, tackling the role of imported products driving deforestation globally.
• Investors, banks and financiers must divest from JBS, Marfrig and Minerva and its subsidiaries excluding them from their investment funds and bond portfolios.
• Supermarkets, retailers and food service companies must drop these companies as a meat supplier.
• The Brazilian government must divest all financing for these companies via BNDES development bank, must introduce enforceable rules against deforestation and introduce strict regulatory limits on mega and factory farm methane emissions.
• JBS, Marfrig and Minerva must disclose its direct and indirect emissions fully, including carbon dioxide and methane, and allow an independent third party to verify their company’s emissions claims.
Carlos Nobre, renowned Brazilian earth scientist, who spent the last four decades dedicated to research studying the Amazon rainforest and its impacts on the earth system and 2007 Nobel Peace Prize winner, has a message to the international community:
“Responsible consumption is key. The international community must continue to play an important role on sustainable consumption and not purchase any products that come from deforested areas.”
A final message from Lucas Ferrante, Brazilian ecologist and researcher, who published several studies on the Amazon rainforest and Cerrado:
“Countries that import commodities from Brazil need to review their trade agreements, mainly for meat, soy, ores, biofuels and now oil and its derivatives that come from the Amazon. Brazilian agribusiness has become a threat to the Amazon, to traditional peoples and to the global climate.”
We are facing multiple challenges ahead of us, none of them simple to solve, requiring total transparency, good will and power to make the essential and effective changes that will create a positive meaningful impact on the future of our planet and humanity.
We can no longer afford to turn a blind eye to these issues, as the result of our inaction will profoundly impact the future of our children!