Sun, Jul 07, 2019 - Page 7 News List

The world must not barter the Amazon rainforest away for burgers and steaks

The EU-Mercosur trade deal is good news for Brazil’s beef industry and Europe’s carnivores, but devastating for the greatest rainforest

By Jonathan Watts  /  The Guardian

European leaders have thrown the Amazon rainforest under a Volkswagen bus in a massive cows-for-cars trade deal with Brazil and three other South American nations.

The EU-Mercosur Agreement — the largest in Europe’s history, according to officials — would make it cheaper for Brazilian farmers to export agricultural products, particularly beef, despite growing evidence that cattle ranching is the primary driver of deforestation.

In return, European businesses get greater access to the markets of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, which would benefit producers of vehicles, chemicals, machinery, wine and cheese.

Negotiations took almost two decades, which might explain why the outcome signed last week reflects the pro-industry values of the past rather than the environmental concerns of the present.

Europeans know the risks. Many more people in Europe are adopting a vegetarian diet as it becomes clear that consumption of beef — particularly from Brazil — is a cause of forest clearance, which is destabilizing the climate.

The clearest proof yet is contained in a new investigation by the Stockholm-based non-governmental agency TRASE, which tracks supply chains and the effects of the beef on our plates, in our burgers and on our barbecues.

Even before the new trade deal, the country-by-country breakdown by TRASE reveals that meat consumers in Britain were indirectly responsible for up to 500 soccer fields of land clearance in Brazil last year. Italy — the biggest Brazilian beef buyer in the EU — chewed through about four times as much. With the agreed reduction in tariffs, the volume in all European countries is likely to increase.

The trade deal was celebrated by Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has put agriculture and mining at the vanguard of a strategy to open up the Amazon, the Cerrado and other forests. His government has neutered the environment ministry and pushed proposals to remove the protected status for indigenous territory and nature reserves.

A record surge of deforestation last month prompted concerns that Bolsonaro is giving a free pass to illegal logging, farming and mining. Last year saw a 13 percent increase to the highest level in a decade.

Not coincidentally, this comes at a time of record beef exports. Brazil is now the world’s slaughterhouse. Last year, 1.64 million tonnes of steak and other cuts were sent overseas, beating the previous record in 2007, which followed the peak of forest clearance.

The TRASE study showed that 5,800 square kilometers — 100 times the area of Manhattan — was cut down last year to create pastures.

European leaders have downplayed the environmental effects of the deal. Despite the cheaper tariffs, they have said that beef imports are unlikely to rise significantly, adding that the deal locks Brazil into the Paris climate agreement.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters that the historic deal highlighted a commitment to “rules-based trade.”

Yet, there are countless reports of rule-breaking by Brazilian meat companies.

An investigation published this week by the Guardian, in conjunction with Reporter Brasil and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, showed how the global market leader JBS is still selling meat from companies that have been fined for deforestation. This follows similar revelations from two years ago, connected to a senior member of the Brazilian Cabinet. The farmers involved denied the claims.

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