Brazils biggest slaughterhouses are cleaning up their meat supply. Others must follow suit.
by Richard George
Yesterday the three largest slaughterhouses in Brazil JBS, Marfrig and Minerva published an update on their progress to ensure that the meat they produce isnt threatening the Amazon. It is another important milestone towards ending deforestation.In October 2009, the three slaughterhouses made a public commitment that they would not buy from farms that were clearing the Amazon rainforest, using slave labor or that were established in Indigenous lands or conservation areas. Crucially, the slaughterhouses agreed to put supply chain monitoring systems in place to ensure this agreement was followed, and to get someone independent to check that their systems were working. You can see the slaughterhouses audit results on their websites: Marfrig Minerva JBS Over the past year, we have worked with JBS, Marfrig and Minerva to agree common criteria to standardise these audits and make sure each company's audits were comparable. One key criterion was that the external auditors must have total access to companies purchase records so they could see which farms supplied them with cattle. Another was for us to agree with them an appropriate sample size for the auditors to examine. Yesterday they published the results of these independent, external audits - an important step towards greater transparency and greater social control of meat production in Brazil. According to the auditors, DNV and BDO, the three slaughterhouses have been effective in cutting off trade with farms that are putting the Amazon at risk. In over 99% of cases slaughterhouses were buying from farms that were no longer cutting down the Amazon. The reason that the slaughterhouses' internal control systems were so effective is that they have geo-references for most of the farms they bought from - allowing them to place them on a map and cross reference them against satellite images showing forest destruction. All farmers are required by law to register with the Brazilian government's rural properties database, SICAR. However, due to lax enforcement of this law by the Brazilian government, the slaughterhouses were forced to hire people to get their suppliers' details. Fixing this is critical. Once all the farms are registered, any company, large or small, will be able to understand its supply chains and make sure that it isn't buying from farmers that are destroying the Amazon.That's why it is so important for the federal government to make sure that farmers register. The government also has to crack down on loopholes in SICAR's implementation that let the biggest farms get away with forest destruction. Under the new Forest Code, farmers must restore any forest cleared illegally after 2008, though farms in the Amazon that are smaller than 400 hectares are exempted from this. Some farmers are trying to register each part of their enormous farm separately, pretending that each of the pieces is a separate property. By dividing themselves up into smaller units, the biggest farms think they can get away with forest destruction. This loophole must be closed immediately. Yesterday's announcement puts massive pressure on the rest of the industry. JBS, Marfrig and Minerva have taken responsibility for their supply chains. Now the other slaughterhouses, direct buyers and large supermarkets in Brazil must follow their lead. These laggards have no excuse - and we will be watching closely to see how they respond.