Largest beef supplier urged to act on illegal cattle grazing

The world’s largest producer of beef, JBS, is failing to effectively monitor for illegally grazed cattle entering its supply chain, according to a report.

In the report, Amnesty International (AI) examined data from three areas in the key northern state of Rondônia in Brazil – Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau Indigenous territory, Rio Jacy-Paraná and Rio Ouro Preto Reserves – where commercial cattle ranching is prohibited.

AI alleged JBS had purchased cattle from farmers who operated both illegal farms in protected areas and legal farms outside protected areas.

“While Amnesty International did not find any evidence indicating that JBS is directly involved in human rights abuses in the three sites investigated, it did find that cattle illegally grazed in protected areas have entered the company’s supply chain,” the report said.

In response buyers are being advised to source beef they are certain avoids areas associated with deforestation and to quiz suppliers particularly in relation to processed products such as corned beef.

Land seizures from Indigenous people, deforestation and fires are often used to convert protected areas of the Amazon rainforest into pasture for cattle, the report said. 

It added the farmers may have employed the illegal practice of cattle laundering to circumvent existing monitoring systems and sell cattle grazed in these protected areas to JBS. 

The NGO has called on JBS to promptly implement an effective monitoring system, including its indirect suppliers, by the end of 2020. AI said the move would ensure that cattle illegally grazed in protected areas at some stage of their lives do not enter the JBS supply chain.

“As the largest beef producer in the world, JBS is in a unique position to exercise leverage, influence and control to prevent the entry of illegally grazed cattle into its supply chain,” the report said. 

Throughout this process, the firm should engage with its direct and indirect suppliers to “implement the system, providing them with the necessary support, including financial and technical”.

“Where suppliers do not collaborate, JBS should apply its leverage, including with warnings of suspension and actual suspension of business relationships,” the report said.

Richard Pearshouse, head of crisis and the environment at AI, said: “JBS has been aware of the risks that cattle illegally grazed in protected areas may enter its supply chain since at least 2009.

“JBS failed to implement an effective monitoring system for its supply chain, including its indirect suppliers. It needs to make good on the harms caused and promptly put in place systems to avoid this happening again.”

According to the report, data from Rondônia’s animal health control agency showed the number of cattle in protected areas where commercial cattle ranching is illegal had risen substantially. From November 2018 to April 2020, the number of cattle rose from 125,560 to 153,566, an increase of 22%.

Data also revealed that almost 90,000 cattle were transferred off farms located in protected areas where commercial cattle ranching is illegal during 2019. 

Brazil has an estimated 214m cattle and its beef industry, worth $124bn, accounts for 8% of its GDP.

David Read, chairman at Prestige Purchasing, told SM beef, soy and palm oil are the three big contributors to deforestation globally.

“Of these, the conversion of forest to pasture for beef (largely in Latin America) has by far the largest impact with particularly high levels in Brazil and Paraguay,” he said.

“We advise our hospitality clients to buy only beef that they can be certain is pasture-raised and avoid any geographic sources associated with deforestation. Raw product is particularly simple in this regard, but the processed product may require supplier engagement and questioning – for example, corned beef which is how most South American beef enters the UK.” 

JBS has been contacted for comment.

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