Despite Progress, Brazilian Meatpacking Companies Still Cannot Promise ‘Deforestation-Free’

How cattle industry leaders JBS, Marfrig, and Minerva are doing seven years after promising to end deforestation in their supply chains

by Daniel Brindis

Seven years since making zero deforestation commitments, major meatpackers in Brazil have demonstrated progress in not buying from forest destruction directly. Nonetheless they are still unable ensure that they are not purchasing from deforestation indirectly and these companies not yet set a deadline for addressing this loophole. The meatpackers’ zero deforestation commitments are still not fully satisfied until they can ensure that they are not buying from any farms involved in deforestation both directly and indirectly.

Ten years ago, Greenpeace began investigating the link between deforestation and cattle farming in the Amazon and published the landmark report Slaughtering the Amazon in 2009. The largest meatpackers in Brazil JBS, Marfrig, and Minerva, who today represent approximately 70 percent of the cattle slaughtered within the Amazon Biome, responded with a zero deforestation commitment — the Cattle Agreement. The Agreement requires the companies to not buy from Amazon Biome farms involved in deforestation after 2009, slave labor, or invasions into Indigenous Peoples’ lands and other protected areas. The Agreement inspired hope for an end to deforestation for cattle-raising, by far the most common use of cleared rainforest land in the Brazilian Amazon.

As part of the Cattle Agreement, JBS, Marfrig, and Minerva have published annual independent verification audits on their progress implementing their commitments. These audits monitor whether or not the companies are actually excluding potential suppliers if a supplier ranch is involved in forest destruction or awful labor practices. You can read the companies’ reports through the links below at the end of this update.

Progress Continues, but Big Issues Remain

According to the auditors BDO and BNV, the meatpackers have control systems that are effective in checking whether or not direct suppliers are involved in bad practices outlined in the Cattle Agreement and blocking any direct supplier found to have been clearing forest, invading protected areas, or cited for the use of slave labor.

The companies also increased direct purchasing from supplier farms that have provided geo-referenced property maps. These maps make it easier for the meatpackers to monitor deforestation on the suppliers’ properties. Since last year, Marfrig has made 100 percent of its Amazon Biome purchases from farms that have provided maps. JBS, the largest meatpacker worldwide increased purchases from farms that provided maps from 71 to 80 percent. Eighty percent still falls short of JBS’s commitment to have 100 percent of its purchases come from mapped farms beginning 21 months ago in December 2014. Minerva’s purchases from mapped farms rose from 85 in the previous year to 92 percent.

Despite positive progress, meatpackers still are not complying with the requirement to address deforestation amongst indirect suppliers. Without addressing this question, meatpackers cannot ensure that they are not part of the cattle deforestation problem. Cattle are moved a lot over their lifetime and if there is no control of the farms that supply the farms that sell directly to the meatpacking companies, the “deforestation-free” cattle could be mixed in with animals from devastated areas and the control systems, as they are today, cannot detect the difference. In the context of increasing deforestation, record Amazon rainforest-clearing fires, and the Brazilian government allowing illegal deforestation until 2030 as part of its Paris Climate Commitments, the world cannot afford to wait much longer for JBS, Marfrig, and Minerva act.

Now is a crucial moment to expand accountability throughout the cattle supply chain in the Amazon. Individuals around the world and in particular in Brazil have demanded an end to deforestation. Over the last few months, the three largest supermarket chains in Brazil — Carrefour, Pão de Açúcar and Walmart — have adopted zero deforestation policies related to beef and deforestation or slave labor. Prior to these new policies, Greenpeace Brazil had published Grilling Away the Amazon, which compared how the major supermarket chains fared on beef deforestation policies.

Although addressing behavior of indirect suppliers seems complex today, at one point even monitoring of direct suppliers was seen as unthinkable and unfeasible. Monitoring technology has become more advanced and accessible since the agreement was signed seven years ago and demand for control over cattle as a primary deforestation driver has only increased.  Until indirect supplier questions are addressed, customers of Amazon beef and leather are still exposed to deforestation in their supply chain.

Read the full audit results from the meatpacking companies below

JBS Link

Marfrig Link

Minerva Link

Daniel Brindis

By Daniel Brindis

Daniel is the Forests Campaign Director, based in San Francisco. His portfolio includes the Amazon, the Canadian Boreal, and environmental certification schemes like the Forest Stewardship Council. He splits his time between the San Francisco and Manaus offices.

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