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Brazil beef industry pledges to cut Amazon deforestation

May 27 2015

Large food retailers as well as agribusinesses are amongst big companies to recently make zero-deforestation pledges.

A recent study confirmed that public agreements made by beef suppliers in Brazil have had a real impact on rancher and slaughterhouse behaviour in the Amazon. A team led by Holly Gibbs of the University of Wisconsin-Madison observed data on land use in the state of Pará before and after a 2009 agreement by major meatpacking companies to remove deforestation from their supply chain. The researchers found that the amount of Amazon deforestation amongst ranch owners they studied had been cut in half.

The agreement, signed by meatpacking companies imposed a moratorium on buying cattle linked to deforestation in Brazil where nearly two-thirds of deforested land is used as cattle pasture. They also agreed to monitor their supply chain and only purchase cattle from farms in Brazil’s from an environmental registry, Cadastro Ambiental Rural (CAR). In addition they also confirmed that they would not purchase any cattle from farm that had recently cleared forest land or in any way employed slave labour. Before this agreement, approximately 40% of direct suppliers were linked to recent deforestation. By 2013, the number had fallen to less than 4%.

Rearing cattle in Brazil is a complex process whereby cattle are calved, reared and fattened in different locations before arriving at slaughterhouses. Meatpacking companies that supply beef to food giants are just one in a number of supply-chain that relies on an assortment of cattle suppliers.

This makes tracing cattle and ensuring that it is entirely deforestation-free nearly impossible. However, the agreement quickly changed the behaviour of all major suppliers to JBS-Friboi, the researchers found.

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