Brazilian slaughterhouses fail to fully meet first deadline for stopping Amazon deforestation

Feature story - April 6, 2010
In a meeting on April 5th with Greenpeace, the major slaughterhouses of Brazil — including JBS/Bertin, Marfrig and Minerva — showed insufficient progress to comply with the first step in the Zero Deforestation Agreement they signed six months ago. Each of the companies reaffirmed their commitment to stopping deforestation of the Amazon by cattle ranchers, however, and asked for more time in order to be in compliance with the agreement.Smoke from manmade forest fires deliberately set to clear land for cattle and farming rises above the Amazon. ©Greenpeace/Daniel Beltrá

The Zero Deforestation Agreement was signed by JBS/Bertin, Marfrig and Minerva after the release of the Greenpeace report "Slaughtering the Amazon," which exposed the links between cattle ranching in the Amazon region and deforestation. Following the release of the report and a campaign run by Greenpeace, big supermarket chains such as Wal-Mart and Carrefour, as well as international shoe companies like Nike, Adidas, Clarks, Geox, and Timberland, made clear that they would not purchase leather or meat from the Brazilian slaughterhouses unless the companies could prove they were not sourcing from newly deforested areas. The agreement was signed on October 5, 2009. (You can read more about the "Slaughtering the Amazon" report release and campaign on our blog.)

Brazil is the fourth largest climate polluter in the world, largely due to deforestation of the Amazon rainforest. Cattle ranches occupy 80% of all deforested areas in the Brazilian Amazon.

First Zero Deforestation Agreement deadline not met

The first phase of the Zero Deforestation Agreement required the registration and mapping of all ranches supplying Amazon cattle directly to the slaughterhouses (what are known as the "fattening farms"). They would, then, have a 2-years period to do the same with their indirect suppliers (rearing and setten farms). These steps are necessary for proper monitoring of the cattle supply-chain, which is crucial for the Brazilian slaughterhouses to be able to ensure that their consumers are not receiving products that are contributing to Amazon deforestation. Two of the three Brazilian cattle giants, Marfrig and Minerva, presented their progress yesterday during the meeting, which was held at the Brazilian Association of Meat Exporters (ABIEC) in Sao Paulo. Their results did not match the commitment the companies had agreed to in October 2009.

Though they failed to meet their first deadline, all of the companies who signed the Zero Deforestation Agreement reaffirmed their intent to clean up their supply chain and asked for more time to fulfill their obligation.

Despite the insufficient results, both Marfrig and Minerva presented on the significant progress that they have made during the last six months. Marfrig, for example, reported that 80% of its suppliers operating in the Amazon have been identified, but maps of the ranches are still missing. ABIEC, Marfrig, and Minerva asked for an additional three months to complete the tasks of identifying the cattle ranches and committed to having all ranches fully mapped and registered by November.

The world's largest slaughterhouse, JBS (which is no longer an ABIEC member), did not attend the meeting. A representative of the company met Greenpeace separately and presented a report in which JBS pledged to have 80% of their Amazon production mapped by the end of April. According to the JBS report, only 43% of Amazon production is mapped. To complete the work in all Amazon states in which they operate, JBS also asked for a  3-month extension. (Bertin, originally a Zero Deforestation Agreement signatory, merged with JBS since signing the agreement.)

"In a region like the Amazon, where the great majority of the farms are not registered at the official public agencies and land grabbing, violence, slave labor, and invasion of protected areas and indigenous lands are common, the regulation of the cattle industry, including mapping cattle ranches so that they can be monitored, is a matter of national interest," says Paulo Adario, director of Greenpeace Brazil's Amazon Campaign.

Nearly 95,000 more acres have been burned since October 2009

According to Imazon, a Brazilian NGO that independently monitors Amazon deforestation, from October 2009 (when the Zero Deforestation Agreement was signed) to January 2010 some 94,888 acres (38,400 hectares) of the Amazon were deforested. Around 35,000 acres (14,000 hectares) of that deforested land - 40% of the total - occurred within the areas under direct influence of the slaughterhouses.

Greenpeace has made it clear to JBS/Bertin, Marfrig and Minerva that they must move more quickly to ensure that their cattle products are not contributing to deforestation of the Amazon. We will continue to work with the slaughterhouses and report on their progress.

Brazil has become one of the world's leading exporters of beef, leather, and other cattle products, and the country's government is fostering further development of this sector. If they want to keep leading the global market, it is in the Brazilian slaughterhouses' best interest to ensure cattle do not come from newly deforested parts of the Amazon or ranches that profit from the use of slave labor.