Sun, Jul 07, 2019 - Page 7 News List

Rampant deforestation of Amazon driven by global greed for beef

Brazil’s huge beef sector continues to threaten the health of the world’s largest rainforest

By Dom Phillips, Daniel Camargos, Andre Campos, Andrew Wasley an  /  The Guardian, SAO FELIX DO XINGU and SAO PAULO, Brazil, and LOND

Illustration: Louise Ting

The cows grazed under the midday Amazon sun, near a wooden bridge spanning a river. It was an idyllic scene of pastoral quiet, occasionally broken by a motorbike growling on the dirt road that cuts through part of the Lagoa do Triunfo cattle farm to a nearby community.

However, this pasture is land that the farm has been forbidden to use for cattle since 2010, when it was embargoed by the Brazilian Institute of the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA) for illegal deforestation. Nearby were more signs of fresh pasture: short grass, feeding troughs and salt for cattle.

The vast 145,000 hectare farm is one of several owned by the company AgroSB Agropecuaria SA — known in the region as Santa Barbara. Located in an environmentally protected area, Lagoa do Triunfo is more than 600km from the capital of the state of Para on the western fringes of Brazil’s “agricultural frontier” — where farming eats into the rainforest. To get there takes hours of driving along dirt roads and a ferry ride from nearby Sao Felix do Xingu, a cattle town accessible only by airplane until a few decades ago.

AgroSB supplies cattle to JBS, the world’s biggest meat packing company and single biggest supplier of beef, chicken and leather globally, with 350,000 customers in more than 150 countries.

The Lagoa do Triunfo farm last year delivered hundreds of heads of cattle for fattening to other farms also owned by AgroSB, with cattle from those farms being sent to slaughter in JBS plants, an investigation showed.

Embargoes are imposed for environmental breaches, such as farmers or landowners cutting down trees and deforesting illegally, and serve both as a punishment and protective measure to allow land to recover. From 2010 to 2013, at least 12 areas of land on Lagoa do Triunfo were embargoed, and IBAMA fined AgroSB more than US$18 million at the current exchange rate for deforestation on the Lagoa do Triunfo farm.

Our investigative team visited land clearly demarcated as embargoed on government Web sites, and found cows grazing there.

A farm worker said that cattle were allowed to roam in areas that employees knew were embargoed.

“You can’t cut down the vegetation,” the employee said. “The vegetation grows and we work the cattle inside.”

The employee’s name is being withheld in case of retaliation.

Work by Stockholm-based non-governmental organization TRASE, seen exclusively by our team, this week reveals the extent to which the international demand for beef is driving deforestation, with thousands of hectares of the Amazon being felled every year to provide meat for world markets.

AgroSB is a powerful farming empire owned by the Opportunity financial group, cofounded by Daniel Dantas, a controversial businessman that Bloomberg described as the “bad boy” of Brazilian finance. The group owns half a million hectares across Para and has long attracted controversy.

Over the past decade, AgroSB has been accused of illegal deforestation, keeping workers in slave-like conditions and spraying a community occupying one of its farms with pesticides — accusations it has strongly denied.

Scandal has also surrounded JBS, which is supplied by AgroSB. In 2017, following an IBAMA investigation, the meat company was fined US$7.7 million for buying cattle from farms with embargoed areas, including another farm owned by AgroSB. The company pledged to stop buying cattle from the farm.

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