Fires and food

UK supermarkets linked to 2020’s record-breaking fires in Brazil’s Pantanal wetlands

Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod

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Published: 9 March 2021

This Article was Written by: Katie Hill - My Green Pod

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Main image: Aftermath of Fires in Pantanal, Brazil © Leandro Cagiano / Greenpeace


The world’s largest meat processors slaughtered cattle bought from ranchers linked to the 2020 fires that destroyed one-third of the world’s largest inland wetland in the Pantanal region of Brazil, Greenpeace International reveals in a new report.

In Making Mincemeat of the Pantanal, the NGO names 15 cattle ranchers in the region that have recently supplied JBS, Marfrig and Minerva.

Together, they own cattle ranches where more than 73,000 hectares burned between 01 July and 27 October 2020.

That’s an area the half the size of Greater London. In many cases, the burn scar stretches far beyond the properties’ boundaries.

JBS and UK companies

UK companies trading with JBS via its UK subsidiaries include Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Burger King, MacDonald’s and KFC.

They continue to trade despite the fact that JBS is already notorious for scandals involving deforestation, illegalities and human rights abuses in the Amazon.

‘The determination of UK supermarkets and fast food companies to continue trading with JBS is astounding. This is not about whether supermarkets sell Brazilian beef, it’s far bigger than that. It’s about Tesco, Sainsbury’s, M&S and others funding destruction of the natural world by trading with industrial meat giants. 

‘Scandal after scandal has linked JBS to some of the most harmful business practices imaginable in the Amazon. Now we have evidence of it ignoring the destruction of another of the world’s most important, wildlife-rich habitats. How much more environmental devastation do we need to witness before Tesco finally takes a lead and drops JBS for good?’

ANNA JONES
Head of forests, Greenpeace UK

Links to fast food giants

The 15 ranchers have supplied at least 14 meat processing facilities owned by JBS and the other two meat giants.

13 of the ranchers directly supplied one or more of the meat processors from a final approved farm that they owned. 

Direct trade links have been identified from one or more of the meat processing facilities to customers including Burger King and McDonald’s, Danish Crown Group, Nestlé, Brazil’s Pão de Açúcar supermarket chain (a member of the French Casino Group) and Walmart-Chile.

Correspondence between Greenpeace International and JBS, Marfrig and Minerva in January 2021 established that at least 11 of the ranchers whose farms burned last year still own at least one farm from which direct supply of cattle is approved.

Any other rancher may still supply cattle indirectly if it passes through one of these (or any other) approved farm.

A ‘blinkered view’

The meat processors’ current approach to supply chain screening in the Pantanal focuses on the final supply ranch (one farm), without sufficiently considering either where the cattle has previously been or practices in the rancher’s other operations.

This blinkered view enables the most transparent form of cattle laundering – the potential for ranchers to supply cattle from operations that violate law or company policy by passing them through intermediary approved ranches they also own before they are sent to slaughter. 

‘With Brazil’s agricultural sector seemingly allowed to ignore so much destruction without consequence, it’s clear the UK’s proposed supply chain legislation will do precious little to end deforestation. Unless all deforestation is included in the rules, we might as well set fire to them too.’

ANNA JONES
Head of forests, Greenpeace UK

Burning habitats

Following two consecutive years of severe drought, 30% of the Brazilian Pantanal burned in 2020, including large portions of several Indigenous territories (at least 306,500 ha) and habitats of rare species (over 571,900 ha of protected areas).

The total – some 4.49 million ha – represents an 84% increase in burned area over 2019 (2.44 million ha).

Fire is commonly used to clear and prepare recently deforested land for cattle or other agriculture and official reports have found that nearly all of last year’s Pantanal fires were started by human activity.

In many cases ranchers are suspected of starting fires deliberately, in defiance of official bans on use of fire introduced in July by regional governments and presidential decree.

Turning a blind eye

Despite Greenpeace’s findings, all the meat processors asserted that all the ranches that had supplied them directly were compliant with their policy at the time of purchase.

None of the meat processors gave any meaningful indication that it had reviewed its Pantanal supply base for deliberate use of fire.

None indicated that ranchers were required to comply with its policy across their operations, despite Greenpeace findings of significant movement of cattle between operations owned by the same individual.

Indeed, JBS has even publicly stated that it has no intention to exclude ranchers caught violating its decade-old commitments.

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