Meat sold by Grupo Éxito comes from illegal deforestation, investigation reveals



An undercover investigation by the EIA (Environmental Investigation Agency) in the Amazon region revealed that some Colombian supermarkets, including Grupo Éxito, sell meat from the Serranía de Chiribiquete natural park, a protected forest area declared a natural and cultural heritage of humanity by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).


The search was carried out over 18 months and monitored the direct supplier of Grupo Éxito and Colsubsidio in all links of the chain. The company, whose sales capacity is around 2,000 animals per month, owns and leases farms and maintains relationships with indirect suppliers, one of which has been a commercial partner in charge of fattening cattle for more than a decade. The investigators discovered that this producer carries out fattening on an 800-hectare property located north of Chiribiquete Park, Colombia's largest continental protected area.


The EIA was able to verify that 400 of these 800 hectares correspond to the reserve forests that were cut down and converted into pasture for cattle ranching in 2019. In the recordings collected by the agency, the owner confirms that by 2020, he had 600 cattle under his care and that he plans to deforest the rest of the property to continue fattening cows. At the same time, he recognizes that it is a protected territory but affirms that the regulating entity (National Natural Parks) has only "bothered him sometimes, but hardly ever."


According to the testimony, illegal groups give "authorization" to expand the farm, and an annual payment of 10,000 Colombian pesos must be made to them for each animal owned. They even issue receipts with their stamp to keep accounting records and promise to care for the producers in return.


Informal, illegal, and unsafe livestock raising


The informality of livestock farming in Colombia reaches alarming levels. Although the Colombian Agricultural Institute (ICA) is responsible for vaccinating 28 million cattle in the country — which implies knowing whether they are located in protected areas — the entities are too uncoordinated to ensure effective action against deforestation (i.e., there are no traceability mechanisms for animal products for consumption). Additionally, it is estimated that between smuggling and clandestinity, 600,000 animals per year enter the livestock economy for slaughter, posing enormous risks to public health in a country where only 14 percent of the meat plants comply with definitive sanitary standards.


The emergency caused by climate change does not wait, either. According to the National Planning Department (DNP), if adaptation measures are not implemented, Colombia will lose natural resources and approximately 0.5 percent of its GDP annually from 2011 to 2100, equivalent to 3.8 trillion pesos per year, and endanger human lives. The growing demand and consumption of animal products represent immense cruelty and seriously threatens the present and future.


Commitments that remain on paper?


Faced with the scandal this investigation raised, Grupo Éxito issued a statement saying "it has no knowledge of any direct or indirect link between any of its meat suppliers and deforestation in the Chiribiquete National Park" and that it will initiate an investigation. The supermarket has widely promoted its "sustainable livestock farming model" and, in 2019, signed a voluntary agreement to "eliminate deforestation, promote restoration and thus reduce the carbon footprint of the beef chain."


The international non-governmental organization (NGO) Sinergia Animal launched a campaign targeting Éxito stores because it has not announced a clear, comprehensive policy to stop using eggs from caged hens, a controversial and barbaric practice and food safety risk. Last year, the organization began investigating one of the company's egg suppliers, revealing the terrible conditions to which thousands of birds are subjected.