Inadequate enforcement enables illegalities to flourish in Brazil’s beef supply chain

Thursday, July 27th, 2017

Cattle grazing on deforested land in Brazil. Photo: Rhett Butler for MongaBay

Cattle from illegally deforested land plays a significant role in Brazil’s domestic beef supply chain, a slaughter house owner in Amazonas state has told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Felipe Olivera said that “much of the cattle processed here comes from illegally deforested land.”  Olivera owns a FrigoAmazonas slaughter house in the municipality of Boca do Acre, the largest cattle producer in Amazonas.

“It’s impossible to buy cows from land that isn’t deforested,” he said.

The cattle industry accounts for more than 70 percent of the municipality’s economy, making it difficult for officials to take a hard line enforcing deforestation. “We know illegal cows are being killed by people in town,” local government official Josimar Fidelquino told Reuters, adding: “It’s impossible for this city to live without cattle.”

While small slaughterhouses like FrigoAmazonas produce solely for the local market, about 90 percent of Brazil’s cattle is processed in larger slaughterhouses that can trade nationally or internationally. Data from Yale University shows that clearance of land for cattle pasture is responsible for 80 percent of forest loss in the Amazon. IDM has previously reported on the role of illegal deforestation in Brazil’s beef industry:

  • In March, an investigation by Brazilian environment agency IBAMA found that the world’s biggest meatpacker, JBS, had bought livestock raised in illegally deforested areas in the state of Para. Two JBS-owned slaughterhouses were found to have bought 49,468 heads of cattle from embargoed ranches guilty of illegal deforestation.
  • Also in March, an an IBAMA investigation found that farmers in Paraná state had illegally cleared over 1,350 hectares of Atlantic Forest, to make space for agriculture and cattle ranching.

In July, a JBS official told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that “building a supply chain free from deforestation is a constant challenge for the entire industry.” He argued that what is needed is clear tracking data enabling cattle to be tracked from birth until death as they move between farms, to trace legality.

Currently, Brazilian cows have two tracking numbers: a health registration document known as a GTA; and a certification from Brazil’s environment ministry known as CAR, showing they were raised on legally registered land adhering to forest protection rules.

These documents, however, are not publicly available. The absence of clear tracking data enables ranchers to move cattle from illegal land to legally registered properties shortly before selling them to slaughter houses. The border post in Amazonas state, which should inspect cattle documents before they are transported into neighbouring Rondonia State, had been shuttered for months when Reuters visited it. Elaborate schemes involving large ranchers, truckers and officials have been set up to “launder” cattle raised on illegally deforested land on the legitimate market.