Meat industry driving ‘astounding’ levels of deforestation, report finds

Global agribusinesses have been implored to improve the traceability of their soy and soybean supply chains, after a new report linked food products sold in European supermarkets with severe deforestation cases in South America.

A new investigation by Mighty Earth, Rainforest Foundation Norway, and Fern has linked large-scale deforestation, fires, and human rights abuses in Argentina and Paraguay’s Gran Chaco region to meat producers across the globe.

Growing demand for soy production has led to cases of deforestation around Gran Chaco, with the new investigation using satellite mapping and drone footage to capture cases of biome being burned and cleared for production.

Almost 28 million tonnes of soy product was imported to Europe from Latin and South America in 2016, which is used to raise livestock for meat, poultry and dairy products sold at European supermarkets and restaurants.

“The level of destruction was astounding. We documented bulldozers in action clearing large areas of intact forests and grasslands, as well as huge fires billowing smoke into the air,” Mighty Earth’s policy director Anahita Yousefi said. “While the Gran Chaco has traditionally received less attention than other biomes like the Brazilian Amazon, it’s a vitally important ecosystem and there’s no reason to destroy it.”

The Gran Chaco is a biodiverse ecosystem home to native species such as jaguars, screaming hairy armadillos and giant anteaters. While deforestation and fires have destroyed habitat, indigenous communities have been exposed to increased rates of cancer, birth defects and illnesses linked to the heavy use of pesticides.

Cargill accusations

The research field team visited 20 sites in the Chaco undergoing deforestation for soy, with researchers claiming they found links to American agribusinesses Cargill and Bunge – which have previously been linked by Mighty Earth to cases of deforestation in Brazil.

According to the investigation, neither company was able to provide information on the traceability of their soy supply chain.

“As long as the soy traders don’t take immediate action to end deforestation, it becomes the responsibility of companies within the meat industry, retailers and investors to demand that the soy traders guarantee deforestation-free soy.

“Investors like the Norwegian Pension Fund Global should take strong action towards portfolio company Bunge because of their repeated failure to address deforestation,” Rainforest Foundation Norway’s policy advisor, Ida Breckan Claudi said.

Responding to the report, a Cargill spokesperson told edie: “Cargill’s Policy on Forests and Supplier Code of Conduct outline our expectations for working responsibly across the value chain. We take any allegations seriously and conducted our own investigation into claims that we are sourcing from deforested land in Argentina and Paraguay.

“Based on the information available, we have no evidence to support claims that we source from farms linked to deforestation, and we are delivering on our promise to protect forests.”

A statement on Bunge’s website reads: “Bunge believes all agricultural value chains should be environmentally sustainable and economically beneficial to local communities. Our company is committed to applying policies in its businesses and supply chains that reflect these beliefs, and to collaborating with stakeholders and other value chain participants—from farmers to consumers—to develop practical approaches to realise them at scale.

“We are commited to: eliminating deforestation from our agricultural supply chains worldwide, employing tested methodologies that incorporate carbon and biodiversity protections, respecting local and indigenous community rights and applying free, prior and informed consent for land purchases and use, enhancing the traceability and transparency of key supply chains over time, publicly disclosing progress on our efforts.”

Mighty Earth claims that there are more than 650m hectares of cleared land across Latin America which would be suitable for agricultural production without impacting native ecosystems.

Notably, both Cargill and Bunge worked on the implemented the Brazilian Soy Moratorium, which aims to ensure production only takes place on cleared land. However, the initiative is confined to the Brazilian Amazon, meaning deforestation can continue at scale across South America, including the Brazilian Cerrado – one of the country’s tropical savannas.

Matt Mace

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