European supermarkets say Brazilian beef is off the menu

  • A group of European supermarkets have said they will stop transporting beef imported from Brazil after a new report from Mighty Earth and Repórter Brasil linked it to deforestation in the Amazon and other critical biospheres.
  • Sainsbury’s in the UK, Lidl in the Netherlands and Dutch retailer Alhold Delhaize were among the companies that said they would stop stocking Brazilian beef or products made by meat packaging giant JBS.
  • Last year, deforestation in the Amazon hit its highest level since 2005, largely due to the policies of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
  • Activists say the Bolsonaro administration’s refusal to crack down on environmental destruction is provoking a trade backlash in Europe.

A group of supermarket chains that includes Sainsbury’s in the UK and Lidl in the Netherlands said this week it would cut or stop sales of Brazilian beef altogether in the coming months. The move follows an investigation published by environmental group Mighty Earth and Repórter Brasil which found that major Brazilian meat producers like JBS and Minerva continue to be linked to deforestation in the Amazon and other parts of the world. other critical biospheres.

The list of companies saying they will move away from JBS products or Brazilian beef more broadly also includes Dutch retailer Alhold Delhaize, Euros Carrefour Belgium and Auchan France. Together, they account for hundreds of billions of dollars in retail food sales each year. Mighty Earth’s European director Nico Muzi says he hopes more will follow soon.

“I think it’s a very interesting time, and now the challenge is to keep the momentum going,” he told Mongabay.

The report details the links between JBS and Minerva slaughterhouses and third-party livestock farms, known as “indirect suppliers,” which have been implicated in deforestation and the violation of indigenous land rights in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, the Cerrado savannah. and the wetlands of the Pantanal. Brazil’s beef industry has come under heavy criticism from environmental activists for years for its failure to effectively regulate its supply chain from birth to slaughter.

Deforestation in the Amazon reached its highest level since 2006 last year, jumping 22% from the previous year. Muzi said President Jair Bolsonaro’s refusal to protect the Amazon has made European retailers increasingly reluctant to stock beef products from the country.

“This creates a huge concern for the public and consumers in Europe, especially in Northern and Western Europe,” he said.

Albert Heijn, the Netherlands’ largest supermarket chain, said in a statement that it would completely eliminate Brazilian beef from its shelves. Lidl Netherlands has taken an even more drastic step, promising to phase out beef produced all over the continent.

“Faced with the risk of deforestation linked to beef of South American origin, we decided with our supplier to look for an alternative supply. The result is that from January 2022, we will no longer sell beef of South American origin in our fixed assortment, ”the company said.

Lidl Netherlands is a subsidiary of the German company Lidl, which operates nearly 12,000 stores in Europe and the United States.

Pastoralists raising cattle in an indigenous reserve in Brazil. Image by Rodrigo Baléia courtesy of Greenpeace.

The vast majority of Brazilian beef is consumed domestically, and in 2019 the European Union was only its third largest export market. But Muzi says growing international recognition of the need to tackle deforestation as a driver of climate change is putting pressure on the Brazilian beef industry. The decision by European supermarkets to stop stocking their products may indicate the backlash is starting to hit Brazilian meat packers at their pain point.

“It’s still a modest commercial move, and it’s not going to move their boat yet. But the significance of this is the fact that they now have business repercussions for not taking action, ”Muzi said.

In an emailed statement to Mongabay, JBS, the world’s largest meat packer, denied that one of the farms directly supplying its slaughterhouses was violating its internal policies and said it has blocked 14,000 farms from suppliers that don’t. were not in compliance. But he also said tracking indirect suppliers – from farms that pass livestock on to other farms that then deal directly with its slaughterhouses – remains a challenge.

“We have invested heavily in a new blockchain-enabled platform to overcome this challenge and achieve a completely illegal and deforestation-free supply chain by 2025,” the company wrote.

But Muzi said that while he recognized the technical challenges of finding indirect suppliers, he was not convinced by the argument that Brazilian companies couldn’t do more already. A complex tracking system called SISBOV already exists, but it is only used to track disease and contamination in cattle, not their impact on the environment.

“It has never been a technological problem, and obviously today with all the technological advancements from GPS to satellites to blockchain, I think it is a problem of political will,” he said. .

While some of the biggest supermarket retailers involved in the report, including Germany’s REWE and U.S. Stop-and-Shop, have yet to take similar action, Muzi told Mongabay he hopes it will. could soon change.

“If there are audiences in Europe outside of the UK who are really aware of Amazon deforestation, it’s France and Germany,” he said. “So I would expect the Germans to wake up and do something.”

Banner image: A herd of cattle in Brazil. Image by Rhett Butler for Mongabay.

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