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New Brazilian map unmasks its illegal foresters

Those who illegally clear protected forests for profitable soy and beef exports are now revealed by a new Brazilian map.

LONDON, 22 July, 2020 – Europe’s shoppers should have a bone to pick with Brazil: at a conservative estimate, one fifth of its beef and animal feed exports to the European Union are tainted by the illegal destruction of the nation’s rainforest and savannah woodland, a new Brazilian map reveals.

Researchers report in the journal Science that they painstakingly compiled a map of the boundaries of 815,000 farms, plantations, ranches and other rural properties to identify those that did not comply with the nation’s Forest Code, designed to protect native biodiversity, and those that had cleared forest illegally.

Just 2% of these properties were responsible, they found, for 62% of illegal forest destruction in the Amazon and the Cerrado regions, and much of this destruction was linked to agricultural exports.

They think that 22% of the soy harvest and more than 60% of the beef exported to the European Union each year could be contaminated by illegal destruction of natural wilderness the Forest Code law was designed to help protect.

“Now Brazil has the information, it needs to take swift and decisive action to ensure that its exports are deforestation-free. Calling the situation hopeless is no longer an excuse”

“Until now, agribusiness and the Brazilian government have claimed they cannot monitor the entire supply chain, nor distinguish legal from illegal deforestation,” said Raoni Rajão, of the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

“Not any more. We used freely available maps and data to reveal the specific farmers and ranchers clearing forests to produce soy and beef ultimately destined for Europe.

“Now Brazil has the information, it needs to take swift and decisive action against these rule-breakers to ensure that its exports are deforestation-free. Calling the situation hopeless is no longer an excuse.”

Right now Brazil is losing its native wilderness at the rate of a million hectares a year. This is the highest in a decade. A million hectares is 10,000 sq kms, an area bigger than the Mediterranean island of Cyprus. Brazil’s Forest Code has been around for more than 50 years but revised and updated much more recently.

Brazil is one of the world’s great agricultural nations, and the biggest producer of soy – often as fodder for pigs and chickens in Europe and Asia – in the world.

Worsened under Bolsonaro

Of the 4.1 million head of cattle sent to slaughterhouses, at least 500,000 come from properties that may have illegally destroyed forest. Altogether 60% of all slaughtered animals could carry with them the taint of illegal deforestation. The EU imports 189,000 tonnes of Brazilian beef a year.

Although much of the Amazon and the Cerrado wilderness enjoys formal protection, levels of destruction have increased under the government led by Jair Bolsonaro and some of the protections have since been weakened.

Earlier this year, the scale of damage linked to drought, forest fire, climate change and illegal destruction led scientists to wonder aloud if the devastation was irretrievable.

Meanwhile, sustainable agriculture has become a key tenet in the EU’s so-called Green New Deal and an instance of concern that greenhouse gas emissions from forest clearing and forest fires in Brazil could cancel EU efforts to mitigate climate change.

Breaking point

European consumers and their suppliers have separately begun to worry about the global costs of agriculture at home and abroad.

The Science study, provocatively headlined “The rotten apples of Brazil’s agribusiness”, is likely to increase Europe-wide awareness of the neglect of legislation still nominally enforceable, and of the latest disregard of environmental protection intended to stop illegal forest destruction.

“Brazil’s forests are at breaking point,” said Britaldo Soares-Filho, another of the authors, of the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais.

“It’s critical for Europe to use its trade might and purchasing power to help roll back this tragic dismantling of Brazil’s environmental protection, which has implications for the global climate, local people and the country’s valued ecosystem services.” – Climate News Network