UK Purchased £1bn of Beef from Firms Tied to Amazon Deforestation

The world’s biggest supplier of burgers has been fuelling the destruction of the Amazon rainforest by sourcing cattle from ranches linked to deforestation – and British companies are still buying thousands of tonnes of its beef.

Marfrig, a Brazilian meat company that has supplied McDonald’s, Burger King and other huge fast food chains around the world, bought cattle from a farm using deforested land in a part of the Amazon currently ravaged by forest fires. One of the key causes of those fires is farmers clearing land for eventual beef pasture.

The company boasts of its green credentials and recently offered $500m in bonds aimed at environmentally conscious investors. Marfrig claims that none of the cattle it buys come from farms involved in deforestation and that it is the only beef company that can guarantee this.

Yet research by Repórter Brasil, working with the Bureau and the Guardian, traced cattle that the company purchased this year back to a farm that had grazed cows in an area of illegally felled rainforest.

Our investigation has also revealed the full extent of the UK’s involvement in the Amazon crisis. Nearly £1bn worth of beef supplied by Marfrig and two other meat giants which have been accused of deforestation — Minerva Foods and JBS — was directly imported to the UK in recent years.

Unprecedented research to be published today claims that the supply chains for exported beef from these three companies are between them linked to up to 500 square kilometres of deforestation every year.

Responding to our findings, Neil Parish, MP, chair of the Commons environment, food and rural affairs select 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. I’m sure British consumers will not want to be contributing to deforestation in the Amazon.”

Bill McKibben, the veteran environmental campaigner, told the Bureau:

“It’s hard to know what’s worse — companies that don’t acknowledge our environmental crisis at all, or those that … do so and then don’t live up to the promises they make.”

In January, inspectors from Ibama, Brazil’s environmental watchdog, found cattle from Limeira Ranch grazing on illegally deforested land inside a protected region, the Triunfo do Xingu Environmental Protection Area in Pará state. The region has been devastated by the largest number of forest fires in Brazil this year.

The land where the cattle were found had been placed under an official embargo — which prohibits grazing — three years before, due to illegal felling. Embargoes are imposed for environmental violations and serve both as a punishment and protective measure to allow land to recover.

For breaking the embargo, the ranch was fined R$ 1.19m ($300,000) this year. Despite this, documents obtained by Repórter Brasil show that 144 cattle from Limeira Ranch were subsequently supplied to a Marfrig abattoir in Tucumã, also in Pará. The company also bought cattle from the ranch on multiple occasions in late 2018. There is no evidence that the cattle Marfrig purchased were raised on illegally deforested land.

In response, Marfrig did not dispute that the ranch had broken an embargo at the time of the purchase, but said that official checks it carried out using Ibama data at the time had given the ranch the all-clear.

A spokeswoman for Marfrig said:

“Ibama issued a negative certificate assuring 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 added that it had stopped buying from the ranch as soon as it lear