A new investigation has found that more than 800m trees have been cut down in the Amazon rainforest in just six years to feed the world’s appetite for Brazilian beef, despite dire warnings about the forest’s importance in fighting the climate crisis.
A data-driven investigation undertaken by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), the Guardian, Repórter Brasil and Forbidden Stories found systematic and vast forest loss linked to cattle farming. The investigation is part of Forbidden Stories’ Bruno and Dom project. It continues the work of Bruno Pereira, an Indigenous peoples expert, and Dom Phillips, a journalist who was a longtime contributor to the Guardian. The two men were killed in the Amazon last year.
Consistently, the beef industry in Brazil has pledged to avoid farms linked to deforestation. However, available data suggests that 1.7m hectares (4.2m acres) of the Amazon was destroyed near meat plants exporting beef around the world.
Under the then president, Jair Bolsonaro, deforestation across Brazil soared between 2019 and 2022, with cattle ranching being the number one cause. But the new administration of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has promised to curb the destruction.
Researchers at the AidEnvironment consultancy used satellite imagery, livestock movement records and other data to calculate estimated forest loss over six years, between 2017 and 2022 on thousands of ranches near more than 20 slaughterhouses. All the meat plants were owned by Brazil’s big three beef operators and exporters – JBS, Marfrig and Minerva.
To find the farms that were most likely to have supplied each slaughterhouse, the researchers looked at “buying zones”; areas based on transport connections and other factors, including verification using interviews with plant representatives. All the meat plants exported widely, including to the EU, the UK and China, the world’s biggest buyer of Brazilian beef.
Among other things, the research focused on slaughterhouses in the states of Mato Grosso, Pará and Rondônia, important frontiers of deforestation associated with ranching. It is likely the overall figure for deforestation on farms supplying JBS, Marfrig and Minerva is higher, because they run other plants elsewhere in the Amazon.
Story was adapted from the Guardian.