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New report links 2020’s record-breaking fires in Brazil’s Pantanal wetlands to world’s biggest meat processor

by Katie Nelson

March 3, 2021

'Making Mincemeat of the Pantanal' documents 15 cattle ranchers that are linked to the 2020 Pantanal fires

Amsterdam, The Netherlands The world’s largest meat processor JBS and its leading competitors, Marfrig and Minerva, slaughtered cattle purchased from ranchers linked to the 2020 fires that destroyed one-third of the world’s largest inland wetland in the Pantanal region of Brazil, according to a new report published by Greenpeace International. The Brazilian meat giants in turn supply Pantanal beef to food giants like McDonald’s, Burger King, French groups Carrefour and Casino, and markets across the world.

“Fire blazes the way for industrial meat expansion across South America. In the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic and the biodiversity and climate crises, the continued deliberate use of fire within the sector is an international scandal. How to stamp it out is a burning issue,” said Daniela Montalto, Food and Forest campaigner at Greenpeace UK. 

Making Mincemeat of the Pantanal documents 15 cattle ranchers that are linked to the 2020 Pantanal fires. At least some 73,000 hectares — an area larger than Singapore — burned within the boundaries of properties owned by these ranchers. In 2018–2019, these ranchers supplied at least 14 meat processing facilities owned by JBS, Marfrig and Minerva. Nine of the ranchers were also linked to other environmental violations such as illegal clearing or property registration irregularities at the time of identified trade with the meat processors.

As Brazilian President Bolsonaro’s anti-environment agenda continues to wreak havoc on the Amazon rainforest [1] and amid the chaos and economic upheaval caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic, Brazil’s beef exports still set a new all-time high in 2020

“The world’s largest wetland — a critical habitat for jaguars — is literally going up in smoke. By ignoring the destruction, JBS and the other leading meat processors, Marfrig and Minerva, are all but handing out the matches for this year’s fires,” said Rômulo Batista, Amazon campaigner at Greenpeace Brazil. 

In January 2021, Greenpeace International alerted JBS, Marfrig and Minerva to the environmental and legal risks in their Pantanal supply base exemplified by these ranchers. These included not only connections to the extensive fires, but also cattle supplies from ranches sanctioned for illegal clearance or where property registrations were suspended or cancelled. 

Despite Greenpeace’s findings, all the meat processors asserted that all the ranches that had supplied them directly were compliant with their policy at the time of purchase. None of the meat processors gave any meaningful indication that it had reviewed its Pantanal supply base for deliberate use of fire. None indicated that it required ranchers to comply with its policy across their operations, despite Greenpeace findings of significant movement of cattle between operations owned by the same individual. Indeed, JBS has even publicly stated that it has no intention to exclude ranchers caught violating its decade-old commitments. [2] [3]

“The industrial beef sector is a liability. While promising to maybe someday save the Amazon, JBS and the other leading beef processors seem willing to butcher the Pantanal today, making mincemeat of their sustainability pledges. Importing countries, financiers and meat buyers like McDonald’s, Burger King or French groups Carrefour and Casino need to end their complicity with environmental destruction. Closing the market to forest destroyers is not enough, it is time to phase out industrial meat,” continued Batista. 

Notes: 

Images of the Pantanal fires and wildlife of the Pantanal are available here.

[1] Amazon deforestation in the period August 2019 and July 2020 was equivalent to approximately 11,088 square kilometers, 9.5 percent increase compared to the same period the year before, according to deforestation data released by PRODES. In August 2019, ranchers reportedly set the Amazon alight in a massive coordinated ‘Day of Fire’ in support of Brazilian President Bolsonaro’s plan to open up the rainforest to development. 

[2] The scale of JBS’s environmental and social destruction became a global scandal in 2009, when Greenpeace International published, Slaughtering the Amazon, which exposed how JBS and other major players in the Brazilian beef industry were linked to hundreds of ranches in the Amazon, including some associated with illegal deforestation and other destructive practices, as well as modern-day slavery.

Following that report, in 2009, JBS and three of Brazil’s other big meat processors signed a voluntary commitment the Cattle Agreement to end the purchase of cattle whose production was linked to Amazon deforestation, slave labour or the illegal occupation of Indigenous lands and protected areas. The agreement included a commitment to ensure fully transparent monitoring, verification and reporting of the companies’ entire supply chains including indirect suppliers within two years to achieve zero-deforestation in its supply chain. 

Despite that commitment, in the decade since, the company has continued to be linked to corruption, deforestation and human rights scandals

[3] Food Navigator, February 22, 2021: JBS doubles down on deforestation as Greenpeace denounces ‘five more years of inaction’ 

Marcio Nappo’s, Sustainability Director at JBS Brasil, reported statements: “Right now, we’re not going to block them [rogue suppliers], we’re going to try to help them solve the issue. Sometimes it’s paperwork, sometimes they need to put together a conservation plan, sometimes they need to reforest part of their property. We are going to help them and we’re hiring people to help these suppliers.”

“We think excluding the property and the supplier is a negative approach. It won’t solve the problem because they’ll go to the next meat packer and try to sell it. We don’t want that because it won’t address the issue.” 

Contact:

Katie Nelson, Strategic Communications Specialist, Greenpeace USA: +1 (678) 644-1681, [email protected] 

Greenpeace International Press Desk: +31 (0) 20 718 2470, [email protected]   (available 24 hours)

Katie Nelson

By Katie Nelson

Katie Nelson is a Senior Communications Specialist at Greenpeace USA.

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