Burger King linked to alleged South American deforestation practices

The world's second largest burger chain, Burger King, has been accused of fuelling deforestation in Brazil and Bolivia through its "seeming unwillingness" to address practices linked to key soybean suppliers in South America.

A new report from campaign group Mighty Earth, which compiled analytics and satellite data from Brazil’s national agency for agricultural supply, found that Burger King’s supply chain has been linked to ongoing deforestation practices in 28 sites across 3,000km in South America, notably in Brazil and Bolivia.

The report claims: “Unlike many of its competitors, Burger King has repeatedly turned down requests from civil society organisations to commit to only buying from suppliers who don’t engage in destruction of forests, or to provide information about where its commodities originate.

“The fast food giant has failed to adopt any serious policies to protect native ecosystems in the production of its food. Despite pressure from consumers, it continues to rank dead last among its competitors, like McDonald’s, when it comes to protecting the environment.”

The report focuses on the production of soybeans, which are used to feed the livestock that Burger King and others use to make its meals. According to the report, more than one million square kilometres of land is used to grow soy globally.

However, the production of soy has been directly linked to deforestation in areas of Brazil and Bolivia. The Brazilian tropical savanna of Cerrado has seen around four million hectares of forests destroyed annually between 2001 and 2010. The report notes that two of Burger King’s suppliers, Cargill and Bunge, have been linked to 24 municipalities in the area, which have contributed to 130,000 hectares of deforestation over a five-year period.

Because of Burger King’s lack of transparency on the issue, the report sourced data from satellite mapping, supply chain analysis tools and field investigations. The report found that more than half of the natural vegetation in Cerrado has already been cleared, outpacing deforestation levels of the Amazon, which has seen a 25% decline in vegetation-covered land.

The report also accuses Cargill and Bunge of financing new infrastructure in the area, including the building of roads, and providing fertilizers to farmers. This, the report claims, gives them a “direct role” in driving deforestation across the area.

Burger sins

Mighty Earth is quick to point out that not all deforestation captured in the data was caused by soy practices, but that unsustainable cultivation practices could be reversed if Burger King and its suppliers show a willingness to change.

The soy industry has already agreed to stop sourcing soy grown on deforested land after 2008 in the Brazilian Amazon after pressure from consumers. Despite soy production levels remaining steady, this pledge saw the percentage of new soy plantations in the Brazilian Amazon on deforested land fall from 30% to 1%. In fact, Cargill and Bunge were amongst the companies that agreed to this pledge.

Burger King has declined to comment on the findings, while Cargill’s deforestation pledge cites a “commitment is to end deforestation in our agricultural supply chains, halving it by 2020 and eliminating it by 2030”.

Specifically, Cargill noted: “In Brazil, we have seen great progress as we partnered to advance the Soy Moratorium in the Amazon for more than a decade. Today, we are working with more than 15,000 soy farmers and collaborating with governments, NGOs and partners to implement the Brazilian Forest Code and advance forest protection.  

“In Bolivia, we are applying our experience from other regions and evaluating our sourcing to ensure we are aligned with our commitment. When we uncover a problem, we’ll fix it.”

The allegations of the report go against Cargill’s recent deforestation initiatives. Last year, it forged a new partnership with global research organisation World Resources Institute (WRI) to improve the sustainability of its supply chain, with a particular focus on deforestation and water risk.

Matt Mace

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