Cattle and Soya

Background - 12 October, 2009
When we think of the Amazon, most of us picture lush tropical forest and an abundance of wildlife. The last things we imagine are vast plains of soya and pastures of grazing cows.

Brazil Indonesia and are the world’s third and fourth largest emitters due to tropical deforestation

Yet soya, beef and leather are such big business that huge areas of the Amazon have been destroyed to make way for soya farms and cattle ranches. The global demand for these products are so high that cattle ranching has become the biggest single cause of Amazon deforestation and, because forests store such huge amounts of carbon, a serious cause of global climate change.

We couldn't sit back and watch the Amazon shrink and the climate change just so that the fat cats of agribusiness could line their pockets so, we went undercover to investigate. Unearthing the web of destruction was a huge undertaking and our research took several years to complete. Many said we wanted the impossible - a moratorium on destroying the Amazon for soya and cattle. But five years down the line we are getting close to just that.

How we got there

We started by checking out who bought Amazon soya. To our amazement, we found that it ended up in the supply chains of leading international food companies like McDonald's and on the shelves of mainstream supermarkets. When we published our findings in 'Eating up the Amazon' in April 2006 most companies were ready to talk to us. McDonald's came to the Amazon with us to investigate for themselves, then agreed to help get the moratorium. For fear of losing their international market, Brazil's major soya traders agreed to a two-year moratorium starting in July 2006. It's since been extended until July 2010 and has dramatically decreased the area of the Amazon destroyed for soya.

Heartened by our success, we moved onto the worst offender - the Brazilian cattle industry. We spent three years investigating which cattle ranches were destroying the Amazon and its connections between the Brazilian government, the slaughterhouses and the corporate giants sourcing leather and beef from the Amazon. During our investigation, we even discovered some ranches grabbing land belonging to indigenous people and using modern day slave labour.

The result, a damning report called 'Slaughtering the Amazon', Greenpeace publishd on 1st June 2009 which tracked the global trade in Amazon beef and leather from unscrupulous ranches, beef and leather processors onto an unwitting global market including top brand consumers like Adidas/Reebok, Timberland, Geox, Carrefour, Honda, IKEA, Kraft, Clarks, Nike, Tesco and Wal-Mart. It also shows how the Brazilian government is complicit in bankrolling the destruction and is undermining efforts to tackle the global climate crisis.

As you can imagine, there was a stampede of responses. Within weeks Nike, Adidas, Geox and other leading brands committed stop buying products derived from cows raised on areas of Amazon destruction.

In reponse, four of the biggest players in the global cattle industry have joined forces to reduce their carbon hoofprint and back our call for zero deforestation. JBS-Friboi, Bertin, Minerva and Marfrig are going tostop buying cattle from newly deforested areas of the rainforest. Measures include the monitoring of supply chains and clear targets for the registration of farms that both directly and indirectly supply cattle as well as measures to end the purchase of cattle from indigenous and protected areas and from farms using slave labour.

Forests and Climate Change

These successes are vital for the future of the rainforest and the life they support but they are also crucial and also for the global climate.

A whopping 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions - more than the world's entire transport sector - come from the destruction of tropical forests  For example, Indonesia and Brazil are the world's third and fourth largest emitters due to tropical deforestation - these two countries alone account for nearly 40% of global emissions from deforestation related to land conversion. So we cannot tackle the climate crisis unless we stop deforestation.

As part of the climate deal that world leaders will agree in Copenhagen in December, we think that rich countries should pay approximately US 40 billion a year so that countries like Brazil and Indonesia can protect the forests. In return, forested countries must commit to stopping deforestation by 2015 in priority areas like the Amazon and globally by 2020. In order to convince developed countries to pay, the tropical forest countries like Brazil's President Lula need to demonstrate that they have the infrastructure and governance in place to ensure the funds are spent effectively.  

The moratoria in the Amazon have started paving the way for this. To make sure they are working long-term, Brazil's federal and state governments have to create more accurate maps and  register all rural properties located in the Amazon - measures which will play a vital role in monitoring and protecting the rainforest.