A study published in the academic journal Science found that 20% of soy exports and at least 17% of beef exports to the European Union from the Brazilian biomes Amazon Forest and Cerrado, the world's most biodiverse, carbon-rich and oldest savannah, may come from areas that are illegally deforested. The conclusion reinforces previous information according to which cattle ranching and soy crops are among the biggest culprits of tropical deforestation.
In order to reach this conclusion, 815,000 rural properties of the country were assessed and compared to maps of land use and deforestation. Researchers also get data from Transparency for Sustainable Economies (TRASE) and GTA documents (cattle transport permits) that are issued when animals are traded between properties and to slaughterhouses.
Furthermore, the supply chain of JBS, the largest meat processing company in the world by sales, was found to have cattle that had illegally grazed in the Amazon, according to a report released by Amnesty International in July. This might also mean that, besides the environmental impact, "JBS contributes to human rights abuses against Indigenous peoples." The company has known about this situation since 2009 but did not come up with a solution and falsely claimed that their meat was deforestation-free.
Soy, beef and Amazon deforestation
It's well known that soy production is one of the main factors contributing to deforestation, but not everybody knows that most of the soy is being produced to feed animals, not people. A meat-eater is responsible for consuming far more soy than a vegan eating tofu. For example, it is estimated that the average European consumes approximately 61 kg of soy a year, mainly through animal products such as chicken, pork, salmon, cheese, milk and eggs.
Given that Brazil is the number one beef exporter in the world, that it is the world's largest producer of soy (primarily used to feed meat and dairy livestock) and that it has been experiencing its highest deforestation rate in decades — 1,361,000 hectares in 2019 alone — international pressure is growing for real solutions and political decisions. But while the Brazilian government said they could not completely trace their supply chains, the Science article "The rotten apples of Brazil's agribusiness" reported that it actually could, and it should.
"We used freely available maps and data to reveal the specific farmers and ranchers clearing forests to produce soy and beef ultimately destined for Europe. Now, Brazil has the information it needs to take swift and decisive action against these rule-breakers to ensure that its exports are deforestation-free. Calling the situation hopeless is no longer an excuse," explains Raoni Rajão, a professor at the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG).
Human rights: the other side of the coin
In Brazil, the Amazon region has seen the most growth in Brazil's cattle industry. "Since 1988, the number of cattle there has almost quadrupled to 86 million in 2018, accounting for 40% of the national total," stated Amnesty International. But, deforestation is not only a problem for animals, natural resources and the forest. The NGO also warned about human rights violations, violence and threats against indigenous peoples and traditional residents of reserves, making only three people remain from out of approximately 60 families who previously lived on the Rio Jacy-Paraná Reserve. Aside from that, indigenous land is protected under international human rights law, and commercial cattle ranching is prohibited in these sites.
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