A Brazilian company which supplies burgers to McDonald’s and Burger King sourced cattle from ranches linked to the deforestation of the Amazon.
Marfrig, the world’s largest supplier of burgers, bought cattle from Limeira Ranch which had used deforested land for grazing cows in a region where the Amazon is experiencing forest fires, an investigation by Repórter Brasil, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and The Guardian found.
In January, cattle from the ranch were found grazing illegally in the Triunfo do Xingu Environmental Protection Area, an area under official embargo, by Brazil’s environmental watchdog, Ibama.
The ranch was fined 1.19m Brazilian real ($300,000) but documents showed 144 cattle were subsequently supplied to a Marfrig abattoir. However, there is no evidence that the cattle Marfrig purchased were raised on illegally deforested land.
Responding to the investigation, Marfrig did not dispute that the ranch had broken an embargo at the time of the purchase, but said its official checks using Ibama data at the time had given the ranch the all-clear.
A spokeswoman for Marfrig said: “Ibama issued a negative certificate ensuring that on that date nothing was against the supplier … That’s the only way companies – not just Marfrig – can look for official information in real time.”
The company said it had stopped buying from the ranch as soon as it learned of the fine. According to documents seen by the Bureau, Ibama had publicly listed the fine on its website two weeks before the cattle purchase.
The company has publicly committed to “zero deforestation” in the Amazon biome. Earlier this year Marfrig, which supplies burgers to McDonald’s, Burger King and other fast food chains, claimed it is the only company with geo-referenced maps for 100% of its suppliers in the Amazon.
It said: “The mapping provides geospatial analysis containing all the data of suppliers and identifies whether they are operating in agreement with the Amazon biome.”
However the report claimed Marfrig and two other meat companies, Minerva Foods and JBS, had been linked to up to 500 sq km of deforestation each year.
The three companies shipped 147,000 tonnes of beef – enough to make 170m burgers – to the UK in the past five years, worth approximately £1bn.
McDonald's told the Bureau, it had “made a commitment not to purchase raw material from any farm in the Amazon ... linked with deforestation” and aims to eliminate deforestation froms its global supply chain by 2030.
Burger King said: “Our goal is to eliminate deforestation within our global supply chain, and we are working toward this” and that all their suppliers were required to comply with their sustainability and forest protection policies.
Neil Parish MP, chair of the UK Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, said: “This investigation shows the importance of supply chain transparency, from farm to fork. We must think more carefully about the environmental impact of food and the greater degree of control we have with British made products.”
Earlier this month, fashion brands including H&M, Vans and Timberland announced they would temporarily ban orders Brazilian leather over environmental concerns about cattle rearing in the Amazon.
Separately, Asda has unveiled a digital seafood supply chain map to increase transparency and allow customers to trace fish back to the fishery.
Using the Ocean Disclosure Project (ODP) database, Asda customers are able to view how the supermarket manages its supply chain, what fishing technique has been used and the environmental impact of all of the farmed and wild-caught seafood used in own-brand products.
The project is an extension Asda’s 2015 scheme to reveal the source of all wild caught seafood used.
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