Top name brands implicated in Amazon destruction

New Greenpeace report shows how the cattle industry in Brazil is feeding demand for raw resources and “Slaughtering the Amazon”

Feature story - June 1, 2009
The Greenpeace report “Slaughtering the Amazon” is the product of a three-year investigation into Brazil’s cattle industry, the country’s chief source of CO2 emissions and the largest single driver of deforestation anywhere in the world. Our investigation exposed the Brazilian government’s complicity in bankrolling deforestation in the Amazon, as well as several top name shoe brands – such as Adidas, Nike, Reebok, and Timberland – whose demand for leather may be supporting cattle ranchers that are illegally slaughtering the Amazon.An aerial view of man-made forest fires intended to clear land for cattle, which can be seen grazing just a few feet from the fire line, or crops. ©Daniel Beltra/Greenpeace

"Slaughtering the Amazon" tracks leather, beef, and other cattle products produced by ranches involved in illegal deforestation as they make their way to processing plants, manufacturers, and ultimately consumers. The report highlights the need to end deforestation in the Amazon for cattle and the importance of having people, industry, and governments work together to implement a global solution that protects tropical forests to mitigate the effects of climate change.

"Brazil is the fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gasses in the world in large part because of deforestation-related emissions. The Brazilian cattle industry is the leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon and is driving climate change," said Greenpeace Forest Campaigner Lindsey Allen. "To be true climate leaders, Nike, Adidas, Timberland and other brands must help protect the Amazon and our climate by refusing to buy leather from deforestation. In the fight against climate change, every step counts."

Greenpeace investigation exposes contaminated supply chain with strong US connection

While the US-based companies behind reputable global brands like Adidas, Nike, Reebok, and Timberland appear to believe that Amazon sources are excluded from their products, our investigations expose for the first time how their blind consumption of raw materials fuels deforestation and climate change.

Greenpeace's undercover investigation into the Brazilian cattle industry has exposed the many convoluted steps in the complex global trade in leather and beef products from part-Brazilian-government-owned corporations Bertin, JBS and Marfrig. We have identified hundreds of ranches belonging to these companies that are within the Amazon rainforest and supplying cattle to slaughterhouses in the Amazon region. Where we were able to obtain mapped boundaries for ranches, satellite analysis reveals that significant supplies of cattle come from ranches active in recent and illegal deforestation. Trade data also reveal trade with ranches using modern-day slavery. Additionally, one Bertin slaughterhouse receives supplies of cattle from an illegal ranch occupying Indian Lands.

These slaughterhouses in the Amazon region ship their hides and beef to company facilities thousands of miles away in the south of Brazil for further processing before export. In a number of cases, additional processing takes place in import countries before the final product reaches the market. In effect, criminal or "dirty" supplies of cattle are being "laundered" through this supply chain to an unwitting global market.

The demand for leather means more Amazon rainforest cleared to graze cattle which can end up in brands like Nike, Adidas, and Timberland. Take action now >> Ask Nike, Adidas, Timberland, Reebok, Clark's and Geox to refuse to use leather that is destroying the Amazon.

The Amazon and the climate

Forests are vital to stabilizing the world's climate because they store such large amounts of carbon. There is about one-and-a-half times as much carbon stored in the Earth's forests as there is in its atmosphere. It is estimated that the Amazon alone stores somewhere from 80 to 120 billion tons of carbon. If the Amazon were destroyed, it would release some 50 times the annual greenhouse gas emissions of the United States.

If we're going to prevent catastrophic climate change, we need to save the world's rainforests. Tropical deforestation is responsible for up to 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, more than all the cars, trains, planes, trucks, and ships in the world combined. This is why Greenpeace is calling for Zero Deforestation in the Amazon as well as global solutions to deforestation and climate change.

The Brazilian government is financing cattle industry expansion, which means more deforestation in the Amazon and more emissions contributing to climate change.

The Brazilian Amazon has the highest annual deforestation rate to be found anywhere in the world, and the cattle industry is the largest single driver of that deforestation, accounting for as much as 80% according to the Brazilian government. In fact, some 14% of all deforestation that occurs globally is due to deforestation of the Amazon for cattle, making Brazil's cattle industry the single largest driver of deforestation in the world.

Based on data from recent years, we are losing at least one acre of Amazon rainforest to cattle ranchers every 8 seconds. Efforts to curb emissions from global deforestation, therefore, must tackle Brazil's cattle industry.

But the Brazilian government is bankrolling a massive expansion of the cattle industry in an attempt to dominate the global market for agricultural commodities, including cattle products. Brazil already maintains the largest commercial cattle herd in the world, and is the leading exporter of beef as well as the largest exporter of tanned leather (a title it shares with China). The total value of Brazil's cattle trade in 2008 was nearly $7 billion, more than a quarter of which came from leather. One in every three tons of beef traded internationally comes from Brazil, and the country's government forecasts that by 2018 almost two out of every three tons of beef will come from Brazil.

"By bankrolling the destruction of the Amazon for cattle, President Lula's government is undermining its own climate commitments as well as the global effort to tackle the climate crisis," said Andre Muggiati, Greenpeace Brazil Amazon campaigner. "If it wants to be part of the climate solution, Lula's government must get out of bed with cattle industry, and instead commit to ending Amazon deforestation. Otherwise it will be culpable in the global climate catastrophe that will ensue."

Between 2007 and 2009, a few global corporations - Bertin, JBS, and Marfrig - received $2.65 billion from the Brazilian government, and in exchange the Brazilian government received shares in the companies. These three companies are the world's largest leather traders, the world's largest beef trader (controlling at least 10% of global beef production), and the world's fourth-largest beef trader, respectively. Expansion by these groups is effectively a joint venture with the Brazilian government.

What kind of a leader is Brazil?

Brazil presents itself as a global leader on action to cut deforestation. At the 2008 international climate summit in Poznàn, Poland, the Brazilian government announced its National Climate Change Plan, which included a pledge to cut 72% of deforestation by 2018. These cuts are to be achieved largely by tackling illegal deforestation.

However, the Brazilian government is a funder and shareholder in the major players in the cattle sector in the Amazon - the single largest driver of global deforestation. The Brazilian government has $2.65 billion in shares in global leather and beef processors who profit from the cheap supply of cattle reared on areas of the Amazon that have been illegally destroyed. Projected growth in exports over the next decade is set to create further pressure on the region.

But Brazil is not alone in driving Amazon deforestation. Nor can it take sole responsibility for fixing the problem.

Given the global trade in agricultural commodities driving deforestation, considerable responsibility for action lies with the multinational corporations behind reputable global brands whose blind consumption of raw materials in their supply chains fuels deforestation. Take action now and tell these companies that every step counts in stopping deforestation and climate change.

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