Home / World Business
Sat, Aug 05, 2006 - Page 10 News List

Ronald McDonald helps the Amazon

UNLIKELY BEDMATES Greenpeace has won its battle to stop the destruction of the Amazon through soya cultivation, thanks to an unlikely ally -- McDonald's

By John Sauven  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

At the end of last month, some of the world's most powerful companies took a first step towards saving the Amazon rainforest from the ravages of soya cultivation. An unlikely union of Greenpeace, McDonald's and leading UK supermarkets successfully pressured multinational US-based commodities brokers into signing a two-year moratorium on buying soya from newly deforested Amazon land.

I cannot say it came naturally to Greenpeace to jump into bed with the world's largest fast-food company. But it is a fact that the company immediately recognized the nature of the problem and sought not simply to put its own house in order, but to use its might to push a multi-million-dollar industry towards a more sustainable future. For that, McDonald's European executives must be congratulated.

Home to at least 30 percent of the world's land-based animal and plant species, and 220,000 people from 180 different indigenous nations, the Amazon rainforest is one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet.

Yet, in recent times, an area the size of a football pitch is cleared every 10 seconds. Soya is becoming the prime driver of this deforestation as the crop is used increasingly to feed chickens, pigs and cows for meat products, including, until recently, Chicken McNuggets.

We conducted a three-year investigation into the trade, uncovering a supply chain that begins with illegal rainforest destruction and ends in the fast food restaurants and supermarkets of Europe.

Using satellite images, previously unreleased government documents and undercover monitoring, Greenpeace campaigners for the first time tracked the trade in soya beans from plantation field to fork, in the form of meat reared on the bean.

Amazonian facts

* The Amazon rainforest is home to 30 percent of the world's land-based animal and plant species.

* It is also home to 220,000 people from 180 different indigenous nations.

* Every 10 seconds a piece of land the size of a football pitch is cleared of trees.


Given the slice of the market commanded by McDonald's, it was an obvious starting point for the application of consumer pressure. We did not expect the speed with which the campaign progressed, and the allies we would make along the way.

The April release of our investigation, across three pages of the Guardian newspaper, coincided with an invasion by 2m-high clucking chickens of McDonald's restaurants in seven UK cities. By the time the last of the chickens had been unchained by police from the counter of the company's flagship restaurant in Manchester, England, Ronald McDonald had come to the table.

The company quickly agreed to get Amazon soya out of its chicken feed. But it also formed an alliance with other major UK retailers to put pressure on agribusiness interests operating in Brazil to stop destroying the rainforest.

Cargill, the world's largest privately owned company, has led the march of soya across the rainforest frontier. If the big retailers will not touch chicken fed on Amazon soya, went our reasoning, the pressure on such commodities giants to source soya from elsewhere would become irresistible.

An indication of the influence being exerted by the retailers came in May at a meeting I and my colleagues had with Cargill executives in the midst of a shutdown by Greenpeace of the company's European headquarters. Our discussions had been preceded by telephone calls from UK buyers expressing concern at Cargill's practices in the Amazon.

Cargill's bosses were ready to negotiate. And they did.

Eventually, the alliance of Greenpeace and European retailers led to the two-year moratorium.

This story has been viewed 2007 times.
TOP top