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Brazilian beef trade's links to deforestation revealed by transparency tool

cows in deforested landscape


Demand for Brazilian beef led to the loss of as much as 580,000 hectares of tropical rainforest a year between 2015 and 2017 – the equivalent of 1,600 football pitches a day – according to new data published on, an online transparency tool focused on forest-risk supply chains [1].

Two thirds of deforestation in Brazil’s biodiversity-rich Amazon and Cerrado biomes is for cattle pasture, displacing forest-dwelling communities and wildlife, as well as contributing to climate change through greenhouse gas emissions from vegetation clearance and burning.

Trase data shows that out of a total of 222 companies, just three – JBS, Minerva and Marfrig – are responsible for around two-thirds of exports and are associated with 140,000 hectares of deforestation risk between 2015 and 2017. Brazilian firm JBS, the world’s largest meat-packing company, was linked to a disproportionately high amount of deforestation risk over this period, accounting for more than a third of the total. This is despite a commitment from these companies to eliminate deforestation in the Amazon from its supply chain [2].

Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of beef, with exports worth a total of US$6 billion a year. But the livestock sector as a whole is also responsible for around half of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

The new data on Trase can be used to follow the cattle supply chain from the municipalities where the cows were raised, through to slaughter, buyer and export. This makes it possible to link cattle buyers and export markets to deforestation (and other) impacts on the ground. Trase is also the first transparency tool that maps supply chains beyond slaughterhouses to regions of production – capturing the so called “indirect” suppliers that until now have been a huge blackspot in understanding how the Brazilian beef sector is linked to deforestation.

Erasmus zu Ermgassen, Trase researcher who led the work, said:

“The current uptick in deforestation, and associated forest fires in the Amazon show how important it is to better understand the cattle supply chain. Companies buying beef from Brazil want to know that their supplies are not linked to deforestation, burning, and illegal activities.

“Trase now makes it possible for buyers to see the links between traders and the areas where the cattle are being raised. In turn, the traders themselves need to extend their deforestation-free commitments beyond the Amazon to the rest of Brazil, in particular the Cerrado, and beyond the farms that they buy from directly, to include their indirect suppliers.”

Toby Gardner, Trase director, explained that:

“There is an urgent need to bring down deforestation associated with unsustainable expansion of farming systems, and greater transparency can help accelerate this change – spotlighting both where the problems are, and where progress is being made. Trase has been developed as the first open-access information system that provides transparency on the origin of forest-risk commodities for entire sectors, such as Brazilian beef exports.

Without these improvements in supply chain transparency it remains very hard for commodity buyers to know where to focus efforts to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains, or for governments and campaigning organizations to target the biggest culprits most effectively.”

Brazil exports to 150 different countries globally. Of these, China buys 31% (by value), Halal countries buy 27%, the European Union buys 12%, and Russia 8%. For the first time, Trase is able to show how these exports differ in their deforestation risk based on where in Brazil the cattle were raised. For example, exports via Hong Kong (23% of the total) were associated with higher deforestation risk per tonne than exports to mainland China (15%). This is because significantly more of the beef arriving in Hong Kong comes from the Amazon.

The new data can also be used to explore the deforestation risks for countries looking to increase beef imports, including European Union member states who have negotiated a free trade deal with Brazil and other Mercosur countries, designed to increase trade between the two blocs.

Gardner added: "The European governments who voiced alarm at the Amazon deforestation and fires can now look more accurately at the places they will be importing from and identify the deforestation risk linked to that trade. By bringing transparency to these supply chains, we hope that buyers will use the information to ensure that they are part of the solution, rather than part of the problem, and ensure that their supplies are sustainable, and not exacerbating biodiversity loss and climate change".


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