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BRAZIL: Giants in Cattle Industry Agree to Help Fight Deforestation

by Alexei BarrionuevoNew York Times
October 7th, 2009

Environmental groups hailed a decision this week by four of the world’s largest meat producers to ban the purchase of cattle from newly deforested areas of Brazil’s Amazon rain forest.

At a conference on Monday in São Paulo organized by Greenpeace, the four cattle companies — Bertin, JBS-Friboi, Marfrig and Minerva — agreed to support Greenpeace’s call for an end to the deforestation.

Brazil has the world’s largest cattle herd and is the world’s largest beef exporter, but it is also the fourth largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions. Destruction of tropical forests around the world is estimated to be responsible for about 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Greenpeace contends that the cattle industry in the Amazon is the biggest driver of global deforestation. But the Brazilian government, while pushing ambitious goals to slow deforestation in the Amazon, is also a major financer and shareholder in global beef and leather processors that profit from cattle raised in areas of the Amazon that have been destroyed, often illegally, according to Greenpeace.

The four cattle producers agreed on Monday to monitor their supply chains and set clear targets for the registration of farms that supply cattle, both directly and indirectly. They also said they would devise measures to end the purchase of cattle from indigenous and protected areas, and from farms that use slave labor.

Environmental groups called the decision a major step forward for climate protection.

“This agreement shows that in today’s world someone that wants to be a global player cannot be associated with deforestation and with slave labor,” said Marcelo Furtado, executive director of Greenpeace in Brazil.

The agreement came after the release in June of a report by Greenpeace, “Slaughtering the Amazon,” which detailed the link between forest destruction and the expansion of cattle ranching in the Amazon.

The report led some multinational companies, including shoe manufacturers like Adidas, Nike and Timberland, to pledge to cancel contracts unless they received guarantees that their products were not associated with cattle or slave labor in the Amazon. Beef customers like McDonald’s and Wal-Mart also pressed producers to change their practices in the Amazon, Mr. Furtado said.

Blairo Maggi, the governor of Mato Grosso, the Brazilian state with the highest rate of deforestation in the Amazon and the country’s largest cattle herd, said Monday that he would support efforts to protect the Amazon and provide high-resolution satellite imagery to help monitor the region.

Mr. Furtado said that the Brazilian Association of Supermarkets had also signed on to the agreement, further ensuring compliance by the meat producers.

Conspicuously missing from Monday’s announcement was the government of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil. The government is struggling to reconcile its social and development goals in the Amazon with its desire to be a major player in global climate change talks.



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