THE AMAZON HAS REACHED A TIPPING POINT WHERE IT HAS BEGUN TO ‘SELF-DESTRUCT’

—BUT MAJOR REFORESTATION COULD SAVE IT

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The Amazon has reached a “tipping point” where the rainforest has begun to self-destruct—and a “major reforestation project” is required to save it, according to the editors of a leading scientific journal.

In an editorial, Thomas Lovejoy and Carlos Nobre wrote that deforestation and fires are increasingly threatening the functioning of the rainforest, hampering its ability to act as a crucial carbon sink, a stronghold of biodiversity and critical link in the global water cycle.

“Although 2019 was not the worst year for fire or deforestation in the Amazon, it was the year when the extent of fires and deforestation in the region garnered full global attention,” the authors wrote in the Science Advances editorial. “The precious Amazon is teetering on the edge of functional destruction and, with it, so are we.”

In many parts of the Amazon, deforestation—which now affects around 17 percent of the basin—is helping to convert the landscape in many areas into tropical savannah, hindering the forest’s ability to sustain itself by producing its own rainfall.

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“Researchers predict that deforestation will lead to developing savannahs mainly in the eastern and southern Amazon, perhaps extending into central and southwestern areas, because these zones are naturally close to the minimum amount of rainfall required for the rain forest to thrive,” the authors wrote.

This process is being exacerbated by human-driven global warming which is leading to reduced rainfall and increased temperatures in the region.

The authors say there are already signs the tipping point is “at hand”: for example, a lengthening and hotter dry season, periodic historically unprecedented droughts and the shifting composition of tree species towards those which favor drier climates.

Studies are showing that the role of the Amazon as a carbon sink is declining over time as deforestation spreads—a process that will have significant implications for global warming.

“The atmospheric carbon dioxide removal rate has declined over percent in comparison to the 1990s,” Nobre—a member of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences from the University of Sao Paulo—told Newsweek. “The occurrence of a sequence of very severe droughts in 2006, 2010 and 2015-16 also increased tree mortality and emission rates. Considering removals and emissions—including deforestation and fires—the Amazon has moved from being a relevant sink to being a source of about 400 million tons of carbon dioxide in the last decade.”

Furthermore, the destruction of the Amazon would also harm its role as a provider of freshwater for every country in South America—except for Chile, which is blocked by the Andes mountains.

“Bluntly put, the Amazon not only cannot withstand further deforestation but also now requires rebuilding as the underpinning base of the hydrological cycle if the Amazon is to continue to serve as a flywheel of continental climate for the planet and an essential part of the global carbon cycle as it has for millennia,” the authors wrote.

Amazon rainforest deforestation
View of a burnt area near Moraes Almeida—a town along a section of the trans-Amazonian highway—in Itaituba, Para state, Brazil, on September 14, 2019. The BR230 and BR163 are major transport routes in Brazil that have played a key role in the development and destruction of the world’s largest rainforest.NELSON ALMEIDA/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

In order to “build back a margin of safety,” Lovejoy and Nobre recommend a “major reforestation project,” particularly in the southern and eastern Amazon.

“Any additional increment of deforestation should be matched by three times as much reforestation, with details tailored at national levels,” they said. “Citizens and leaders across South America and around the world must create and promote a new vision of the Amazon, one that recognizes that the natural and economic assets of the region must be managed to maintain its essential role for South America and in sustaining the health of the planet.”

“This new vision will need to respect and protect its natural infrastructure and include a thoughtful review of all related commercial activities.”

This new vision would require putting a stop to “illogical and short-sighted” agricultural practices such as monocultures of cattle, soybeans and sugarcane. Instead, the authors advocate sensible use of intact forests, the harnessing of power from its massive flowing rivers, or the sustainable harvesting of biological assets.

But how successful could such measures be when it comes to stopping or reversing the destruction being wrought in the Amazon, especially given the apparent lack of concern of the Brazilian government—whose territory hosts the majority of the forest.

“If the matter is taken with the seriousness it deserves—and it is recognized the Amazon must be managed as a system—then it should be possible,” Lovejoy—a professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at George Mason University—told Newsweek. “We don’t believe the current [Brazilian] government is interested in going down in history as the administration which tipped the system into dieback/savannahization.”

Nobre added: “All the Amazonian countries have forest restoration in their commitments towards reaching the Paris agreement targets. For instance, Brazil intends to restore 12 million hectares of forest by 2030. The big open question is still the financing of such activities and progress was not achieved at the 25th U.N. Climate Change Conference on how to fund such urgent mitigation actions.”

The authors conclude the article by arguing that we currently stand in a “moment of destiny.”

“The tipping point is here, it is now,” they wrote. “The peoples and leaders of the Amazon countries together have the power, the science, and the tools to avoid a continental-scale, indeed, a global environmental disaster. Together, we need the will and imagination to tip the direction of change in favor of a sustainable Amazon.”

Scientists Warn: Nine Climate Tipping Points Now ‘Active’ – Could Threaten the Existence of Human Civilization

Global Warming Threatens Human Civilization

More than half of the climate tipping points identified a decade ago are now “active,” a group of leading scientists have warned.

This threatens the loss of the Amazon rainforest and the great ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland, which are currently undergoing measurable and unprecedented changes much earlier than expected.

“We must admit that we have underestimated the risks of unleashing irreversible changes, where the planet self-amplifies global warming.” — Johan Rockström, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

This “cascade” of changes sparked by global warming could threaten the existence of human civilizations.

Evidence is mounting that these events are more likely and more interconnected than was previously thought, leading to a possible domino effect.

In an article published in the journal Nature on November 27, 2019, the scientists call for urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to prevent key tipping points, warning of a worst-case scenario of a “hothouse,” less habitable planet.

“A decade ago we identified a suite of potential tipping points in the Earth system, now we see evidence that over half of them have been activated,” said lead author Professor Tim Lenton, director of the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter.

“The growing threat of rapid, irreversible changes means it is no longer responsible to wait and see. The situation is urgent and we need an emergency response.”

Co-author Johan Rockström, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said: “It is not only human pressures on Earth that continue rising to unprecedented levels.

“It is also that as science advances, we must admit that we have underestimated the risks of unleashing irreversible changes, where the planet self-amplifies global warming.

“This is what we now start seeing, already at 1°C global warming.

“Scientifically, this provides strong evidence for declaring a state of planetary emergency, to unleash world action that accelerates the path towards a world that can continue evolving on a stable planet.”

In the commentary, the authors propose a formal way to calculate a planetary emergency as risk multiplied by urgency.

Tipping point risks are now much higher than earlier estimates, while urgency relates to how fast it takes to act to reduce risk.

Exiting the fossil fuel economy is unlikely before 2050, but with temperature already at 1.1°C above pre-industrial temperature, it is likely Earth will cross the 1.5°C guardrail by 2040. The authors conclude this alone defines an emergency.

Nine active tipping points:

  1. Arctic sea ice
  2. Greenland ice sheet
  3. Boreal forests
  4. Permafrost
  5. Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation
  6. Amazon rainforest
  7. Warm-water corals
  8. West Antarctic Ice Sheet
  9. Parts of East Antarctica

The collapse of major ice sheets on Greenland, West Antarctica and part of East Antarctica would commit the world to around 10 meters of irreversible sea-level rise.

Reducing emissions could slow this process, allowing more time for low-lying populations to move.

The rainforests, permafrost, and boreal forests are examples of biosphere tipping points that if crossed result in the release of additional greenhouse gases amplifying warming.

“Scientifically, this provides strong evidence for declaring a state of planetary emergency.” — Johan Rockström

Despite most countries having signed the Paris Agreement, pledging to keep global warming well below 2°C, current national emissions pledges — even if they are met — would lead to 3°C of warming.

Although future tipping points and the interplay between them is difficult to predict, the scientists argue: “If damaging tipping cascades can occur and a global tipping cannot be ruled out, then this is an existential threat to civilization.

“No amount of economic cost-benefit analysis is going to help us. We need to change our approach to the climate problem.”

Professor Lenton added: “We might already have crossed the threshold for a cascade of inter-related tipping points.

“However, the rate at which they progress, and therefore the risk they pose, can be reduced by cutting our emissions.”

Though global temperatures have fluctuated over millions of years, the authors say humans are now “forcing the system,” with atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and global temperature increasing at rates that are an order of magnitude higher than at the end of the last ice age.

###

Reference: “Climate tipping points — too risky to bet against: The growing threat of abrupt and irreversible climate changes must compel political and economic action on emissions.” by Timothy M. Lenton, Johan Rockström, Owen Gaffney, Stefan Rahmstorf, Katherine Richardson, Will Steffen and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, 27 November 2019, Nature.
DOI: 10.1038/d41586-019-03595-0

The latest UN Climate Change Conference will take place in Madrid from December 2-13.

Vast animal-feed crops to satisfy our meat needs are destroying planet

WWF report finds 60% of global biodiversity loss is down to meat-based diets which put huge strain on Earth’s resources

Workers on tractors harvest soybeans in the deforested land of Campo Novo do Parecis, in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso.
 Workers on tractors harvest soybeans in the deforested land of Campo Novo do Parecis, in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. Photograph: Maurilio Cheli/AP

The ongoing global appetite for meat is having a devastating impact on the environment driven by the production of crop-based feed for animals, a new report has warned.

The vast scale of growing crops such as soy to rear chickens, pigs and other animals puts an enormous strain on natural resources leading to the wide-scale loss of land and species, according to the study from the conservation charity WWF.

Intensive and industrial animal farming also results in less nutritious food, it reveals, highlighting that six intensively reared chickens today have the same amount of omega-3 as found in just one chicken in the 1970s.

The study entitled Appetite for Destruction launches on Thursday at the 2017 Extinction and Livestock Conference in London, in conjunction with Compassion in World Farming (CIFW), and warns of the vast amount of land needed to grow the crops used for animal feed and cites some of the world’s most vulnerable areas such as the Amazon, Congo Basin and the Himalayas.

The report and conference come against a backdrop of alarming revelations of industrial farming. Last week a Guardian/ITV investigation showed chicken factory staff in the UK changing crucial food safety information.

Protein-rich soy is now produced in such huge quantities that the average European consumes approximately 61kg each year, largely indirectly by eating animal products such as chicken, pork, salmon, cheese, milk and eggs.

In 2010, the British livestock industry needed an area the size of Yorkshire to produce the soy used in feed. But if global demand for meat grows as expected, the report says, soy production would need to increase by nearly 80% by 2050.

“The world is consuming more animal protein than it needs and this is having a devastating effect on wildlife,” said Duncan Williamson, WWF food policy manager. “A staggering 60% of global biodiversity loss is down to the food we eat. We know a lot of people are aware that a meat-based diet has an impact on water and land, as well as causing greenhouse gas emissions, but few know the biggest issue of all comes from the crop-based feed the animals eat.”

With 23bn chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks and guinea fowl on the planet – more than three per person – the biggest user of crop-based feed globally is poultry. The second largest, with 30% of the world’s feed in 2009, is the pig industry.

In the UK, pork is the second favourite meat after chicken, with each person eating on average 25kg a year in 2015 – nearly the whole recommended yearly intake for all meats. UK nutritional guidelines recommend 45-55g of protein per day, but the average UK consumption is 64-88g, of which 37% is meat and meat products.

Burger King Linked to a Whopping Million-Plus Acres of Deforestation

https://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/green-life/burger-king-linked-whopping-million-plus-acres-deforestation?fbclid=IwAR2b-tkgOmSerfZ9kVipZEQ942A2YXsdAo-g76_GKReuhQzOv1ynw62Av7A#.XWJ2pKN-kxZ.facebook

Deforestation in the Cerrado

Half of Brazil’s savanna is already gone, and big soy has taken over

ALL PHOTOS BY JIM WICKENS/ECOSTORM

DEFORESTATION IN THE CERRADO

You might think soy is just a green, harmless alternative for those trying to steer away from meat and toward a plant-based diet. Not exactly: Three-quarters of the world’s soy is used for animal feed, and about half of it is exported from South America—grown on deforested land that has been cleared away for massive soy fields.

“The soybeans connected to deforestation are making their way to the feed of the chickens, pigs, and cows that people all around the world eat,” says Glenn Hurowitz, CEO of the campaign group Mighty Earth. “Almost every international company that sells meat has some connection to deforestation in their supply chain.”

Enter Burger King.

Using satellite and supply-chain mapping tools, Mighty Earth connected the fast-food giant to a whopping million-plus acres of forest-clearing. In its new report, “The Ultimate Mystery Meat,” the global campaign organization identified two of Burger King’s biggest soy suppliers as the culprits: Cargill, the largest privately owned company in the United States, and Bunge, one of the biggest players in South America.

“The destruction of tropical forests causes something around one-fifth of the world’s total climate pollution, and deforestation also threatens some of the most endangered species in the world,” says Hurowitz.

Ground zero for deforested land is the Cerrado, a 500-million-acre savanna in Brazil. Home to 5 percent of the world’s biodiversity, including threatened species like the jaguar and the giant anteater, half of it has been destroyed—mostly for soy production. In contrast, the Amazon—the Cerrado’s more-famous neighbor to the north and the focus of decades of conservation efforts—has seen a quarter of its ecosystem chopped down.

The Cerrado areas in which Cargill operates experienced more than 320,000 acres of deforestation between 2011 to 2015, while those in which Bunge operates had more than 1.4 million acres cleared. Not all of the deforestation was driven by soy, but much of it was, according to the report.

Also affected were forests in Bolivia, where Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) are the major players. One of the most biodiverse countries in the world, Bolivia’s forests are home to thousands of plant and animal species, including three-toed sloths, macaws, and pink river dolphins. One report Mighty Earth cited places Bolivia’s deforestation rate at more than 700,000 acres per year from 2010 to 2015.

Bolivian woman left homeless by forest fires

WOMAN LEFT HOMELESS BY FOREST FIRES IN THE SANTA CRUZ REGION OF BOLIVIA

Agribusiness isn’t only tearing away the homes of sloths and birds—it’s also uprooting human lives. In 2014, more environmental defenders were killed in Brazil than in any other country, according to Global Witness. Mighty Earth visited the Ayoreo indigenous community in Bolivia, which has been increasingly surrounded by soy fields and forced to endure planes spraying pesticides just a few hundred yards from their village. In the report, one member of the community speaks of an incident when several children died from drinking water contaminated with pesticides.

It’s not just the soy traders that are to blame—Burger King carries much of the responsibility. The company has no serious plan to eliminate deforestation from its supply chain; the “Corporate Responsibility” page of its website doesn’t mention deforestation or human rights. Last year, when the Union of Concerned Scientists scored the country’s biggest beef sellers on their deforestation commitments and practices, it gave Burger King a zero—well below competitors like McDonald’s and Wendy’s.

“The tragedy of the continued deforestation for me is it’s entirely avoidable,” says Hurowitz. “There are about 500 million acres of degraded land across Latin America where agriculture can be extended without impacting native ecosystems.”

In fact, the Soy Moratorium, a voluntary zero-deforestation agreement enacted in 2006 and renewed indefinitely last year, brought clearcutting in the Amazon to historically low levels. (There was an uptick in the rate there last year.) But while deforestation in the Amazon plunged, agricultural production expanded. Mighty Earth and others point to the Soy Moratorium as a win-win for all stakeholders; they, as well as José Sarney Filho, Brazil’s minister of the environment, want to extend the moratorium to include the Cerrado.

Since the report’s release last month, Burger King, Cargill, and Bunge have been tight-lipped. They still have not come out in support of extending the Soy Moratorium to the Cerrado or beyond. The report cites Abiove—the Brazilian soy trade organization that represents Cargill, Bunge, and others—which said in October that “there is no crisis that justifies a [soy] moratorium in the Cerrado.”

A dead hawk surrounded by forest clearance in Brazil

DEAD HAWK SURROUNDED BY FOREST CLEARANCE IN BRAZIL

Hurowitz decries Cargill’s past declarations against deforestation as “green-washing.” The company signed the New York Declaration on Forests as part of the 2014 UN Climate Summit; the declaration called on the private sector to eliminate deforestation from the production of agricultural commodities like soy and palm oil by 2020. However, Cargill’s website describes a less ambitious goal, saying the company is working to cut its deforestation in half by 2020 and eliminate it by 2030. Hurowitz says 2030 is far too late; if Cargill chopped down hundreds of thousands of acres in South America over five years, think of how much it could do in 13. Cargill’s 2017 forest report is similarly disappointing; when detailing the company’s progress with regard to reducing its deforestation, it focuses on its support for Brazil’s Rural Environmental Registry, or CAR, a government agency that likely won’t begin enforcing its forest code until December.

Bunge, to its credit, seems to have slightly better policies than Cargill when it comes to deforestation—but it’s not clear whether those policies have had any positive impact on its practices. It has worked with the Nature Conservancy since 2013 to identify suitable lands for expansion, but has given itself until “between 2020 and 2025” to completely eliminate deforestation from its supply chain. Bunge’s website makes no mention of the Cerrado or any other South American forests besides the Amazon as places where it won’t expand.

Bunge says Mighty Earth’s report is misleading and overstates the potential impact that any of its actions alone would make on the soy industry and South America’s forests. “Deforestation is a complex problem related to global market demand, economic development, property rights, and a lack of sufficient compensation for land owners—from the marketplace or from governments—that would provide incentives to conserve the environment,” writes a representative. “Controlling it will require government, industry, farmers, local communities, and civil society to develop new systems. Bunge will continue to be an active participant in these efforts.”

Neither Cargill nor Burger King responded to requests for comment.

What can you do? Sign Mighty Earth’s petition, for starters. And then take a field trip.

“We really strongly encourage people to go to their local Burger King and talk to the manager about what’s happening, and ask them to contact corporate headquarters,” says Hurowitz.

In other words, instead of ordering a burger, order some change.

The Companies Behind the Burning of the Amazon

The burning of the Amazon and the darkening of skies from Sao Paulo, Brazil, to Santa Cruz, Bolivia, have captured the world’s conscience. Much of the blame for the fires has rightly fallen on Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for directly encouraging the burning of forests and the seizure of Indigenous Peoples’ lands.

But the incentive for the destruction comes from large-scale international meat and soy animal feed companies like JBS and Cargill, and the global brands like Stop & Shop, Costco, McDonald’s, Walmart/Asda, and Sysco that buy from them and sell to the public. It is these companies that are creating the international demand that finances the fires and deforestation.

The transnational nature of their impact can be seen in the current crisis. Their destruction is not confined to Brazil. Just over the border, in the Bolivian Amazon, 2.5 million acres have burned, largely to clear land for new cattle and soy animal feed plantations, in just a few weeks. Paraguay is experiencing similar devastation.

Logs burn at sunset in Bolivia. Photo Credit: 2017, Jim Wickens/Ecostorm

New maps and analysis from Mighty Earth, based on data from NASA, CONAB, and Imazon and released here for the first time, show which companies are most closely linked to the burning:

Cattle

Both domestic and international demand for beef and leather has fueled the rapid expansion of the cattle industry into the Amazon. From 1993 to 2013, the cattle herd in the Amazon expanded by almost 200%  reaching 60 million head of cattle. While deforestation for cattle had been reduced thanks to both private sector and government action, the new wave of deforestation this year shows that the large international beef and leather companies and their customers and financiers continue to create markets for deforestation-based cattle.

The effects of this demand can be seen in the clustering of deforestation near slaughterhouses and roads that have access to slaughterhouses. The company most exposed to deforestation risk in the maps above is JBS,  both Brazil’s largest meatpacker, and the world’s largest meat company. JBS, like other major Brazilian meatpackers signed the 2009 Cattle Moratorium, pledging not to buy beef from cattle connected to deforestation. However,  investigations by government and NGOs have repeatedly found serious violations by JBS, including through laundering cattle.

These scandals reached their apotheosis with the Cold Meat (Carne Fria) scandal in 2017, in which the Brazilian government enforcement agencies produced extensive evidence showing that JBS was sourcing cattle from protected areas.  This and other investigations found that JBS violated both government and its own policies by buying laundered cattle that had been raised in areas linked to deforestation and then transported to “clean ranches” to evade the requirements. The two brothers who control the company were imprisoned for their role in corruption scandals in Brazil.

Aerial cattle field and forest edge. Photo credit: Jim Wickens/Ecosotrm

Soy

Soy supply chains work differently from cattle, and that is reflected in the maps above. Much of the current wave of deforestation has happened close to BR-163. Big soy farmers routinely transport their soy down Highway BR-163 to Cargill’s major port at Santarem, where it is put on ships and sent around the world to be fed to livestock in Europe, China, and elsewhere. There are similar dynamics around other highways on the map. Cargill, Bunge and other leading soy traders have participated in the Amazon Soy Moratorium in Brazil for the last dozen years, in which they committed to cease sourcing from suppliers who engaged in deforestation for soy. Overall, the Soy Moratorium has been a major success, virtually eliminating deforestation for soy.

However, the Soy Moratorium contained two major loopholes. First, the big soy traders can continue to purchase soy from farmers who engage in large-scale deforestation, as long as the deforestation is for crops other than soy. The location of the deforestation close to BR-163 suggests that farmers are exploiting this loophole to continue deforestation even as they sell soy to major traders like Cargill and Bunge. The location of the deforestation close to BR-163 suggests that farmers are exploiting this loophole to continue deforestation even as they sell soy to major traders like Cargill and Bunge.

Second, the Soy Moratorium only applies to the Brazilian Amazon. Major soy traders have continued to drive deforestation in the Bolivian Amazon Basin, the Brazilian Cerrado, and the Gran Chaco of Argentina and Paraguay, creating a major incentive for the rapid deforestation in Bolivia in the last several weeks. Mighty Earth’s reports The Ultimate Mystery Meat and Still At It showed Cargill’s extensive links to deforestation in the Bolivian Amazon basin, and its repeated refusal to take action against key suppliers even when confronted with repeated evidence. And as much attention as the Amazon is getting, Brazil’s half a billion acre, highly biodiverse forest-savannah mosaic known as the Cerrado has been even more deforested. While 80% of the Amazon is still intact, cattle, soy and agriculture interests have destroyed more than half of the Cerrado, putting this ecosystem at even greater risk. Mighty Earth found that in the Cerrado, where deforestation has continued, two companies were primarily responsible for driving deforestation, Cargill and Bunge.

Cargill is the largest trader of soy from Brazil and the world’s largest food and agriculture company. Mighty Earth’s July 2019 report The Worst Company in the World profiled Cargill’s extensive deforestation in South America and elsewhere around the world, building on previous investigations in Bolivia, Brazilian Cerrado, Paraguay, and Argentina.

Although Bunge is a bigger player in the Cerrado, across South America – in Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina, Mighty Earth’s previous analyses of deforestation linked to soy animal feed in South America found Cargill most closely associated with deforestation. The company has refused to discontinue suppliers Mighty Earth found engaged in deforestation after evidence was shared with them, and has bitterly resisted efforts to expand successful industry-wide platforms for monitoring and policing deforestation to South America outside the Brazilian Amazon.

Table top mountains in the Brazilian Cerrado reduced to soy cultivation. Photo credit; Jim Wickens/Ecostorm

Sign for a Cargill silo in Bolivia reads ‘We buy soy’. Cargill is the biggest privately-held company in the U.S., and while it might not be a household name, people consume its products every day. Photo credit: Jim Wickens/Ecostorm

Five years ago, companies including Cargill, Unilever, and Yum Brands stood on stage at the Climate Summit in New York and proclaimed their commitment to removing deforestation from their supply chains by 2020. So too has the Consumer Goods Forum, whose members include Walmart, Mars and Danone.

They have yet to deliver on this commitment.

Now, with one year until their deadline and the Amazon in flames, it is far past time to act.

These companies must take responsibility for the impacts of their products. They must eliminate the market incentives that promote this reckless environmental destruction.

The Consumer Goods Forum and companies like McDonald’s, Burger King, and Ahold Delhaize – which owns Stop & Shop as well as Hannaford, Food Lion, Pea Pod, and Giant supermarkets – cannot continue to look the other way while the Amazon burns. They should instead source only from suppliers and regions that show evidence of eliminating deforestation. Not in another ten years. Not in five years. Not in one year. Now. Today.

The chart below shows the largest customers of the slaughterhouses and soy animal feed traders most associated with cattle and soy deforestation, respectively.

Brands

Several brands stand out for their contracts and relationships with the suppliers most responsible for deforestation.

Ahold Delhaize: The Netherlands-based supermarket powerhouse owns the brands Stop & Shop, Giant, Food Lion, and Hannaford in the United States and Albert Heijn, Delhaize, Etos, Albert, Alfa-Beta, and others across Europe. While consistently touting its sustainability commitments, Ahold continues selling its customers products from some of the worst companies in the world. With knowledge of Cargill’s ongoing child labor issues and its role in deforestation across South America, Ahold has simultaneously pushed Cargill to do a better job even while launching a joint venture partnership with them to provide the store-branded meat to Stop & Shop stores. In addition, Ahold Delhaize conducted business worth a whopping $113 million with JBS in 2019 through food sales and other partnerships.

As egregious as Ahold Delhaize’s actions are, they are not alone:

McDonald’s: McDonald’s is probably Cargill’s largest and most important customer. McDonald’s restaurants are essentially storefronts for Cargill. Cargill not only provides chicken and beef to McDonald’s, they prepare and freeze the burgers and McNuggets, which McDonald’s simply reheats and serves.

Sysco: With $55 billion in annual revenue, Sysco is the world’s largest distributor of food products to restaurants, healthcare facilities, universities, hotels, and inns. Despite claiming that they will “protect the planet by advancing sustainable agriculture practices, reducing our carbon footprint and diverting waste from landfill, in order to protect and preserve the environment for future generations,” they have honored Cargill as their most valued supplier of pork and beef and did $525 million worth of business with JBS in 2019 through sales and other partnerships.

Costco: Both JBS and Cargill list Costco as one of their top customers. Popular with families and small business owners, it ranks as the world’s third largest retailer. Costco states that it “has a responsibility to source its products in a way that is respectful to the environment and to the people associated with that environment.” According to their website, “Our goal is to help provide a net positive impact for communities in commodity-producing landscapes, by doing our part to help reduce the loss of natural forests and other natural ecosystems, which include native and/or intact grasslands, peatlands, savannahs, and wetland.” Nevertheless, according to Bloomberg, Costco conducted $1.43 billion worth of business with JBS in 2019.

Burger King/Restaurant Brands International: Burger King’s practice of selling meat linked to Cargill and other forest destroyers has earned the fast food giant a ‘zero’ on the Union of Concerned Scientists deforestation scorecard. Burger King has asked Cargill to stop destroying forests in their supply chain…but the deadline isn’t until 2030. It is also a significant customer of JBS. Burger King is part of the Restaurant Brands International (RBI) chain that also includes Tim Horton’s and Popeye’s.

Nestle: Based in Switzerland, Nestle is the largest food and beverage company in the world. Nestle was among the first companies to make zero-deforestation commitments, but only started actually monitoring its supply chains nine years later in 2019 – and only for palm oil, not for soy or pulp/paper. Recently certifying 77 percent of its supply chain as deforestation-free, Nestle continues to buy from Cargill for its pet food subsidiary, Nestle Purina Petcare. Bloomberg data also shows Nestle as one of Marfrig’s top customers.

Carrefour: The French company Carrefour is one of the world’s largest supermarket chains, the majority owner of the largest supermarket chains in Brazil, and at risk for cattle-driven deforestation. It has significant supply chain links to Cargill and JBS. Carrefour has committed to eliminating deforestation from its products by 2020, but the policy does not apply to processed or frozen beef products—which means that only around half of Carrefour’s beef distribution in Brazil is covered by its zero-deforestation policy.  According to Chain Reaction Research, 35 percent of the beef and beef products it sampled came from slaughterhouses located within the Legal Amazon including a 2.3 percent from high-risk slaughterhouses.

Casino: Casino, which owns Pão de Açúcar, is a French supermarket giant that prizes its reputation for sustainability in its home country. But as the second-largest supermarket chain in Brazil, it continues to purchase from Cargill, Bunge, and Brazil’s major cattle suppliers.

Walmart: Arkansas-based corporation Walmart is the single-largest company in the world by revenue, and also the largest private employer. Walmart also has a major presence in the UK, through its wholly-owned subsidiary ASDA. Walmart’s stated policy is “as a member of the Consumer Goods Forum, we supported the resolution to achieve zero net deforestation in our supply chain by 2020,encourage our suppliers of [beef, soy, palm oil, pulp and paper] products to work to source products produced with zero net deforestation. We ask suppliers to avoid ancient and endangered forests, to encourage conservation solutions, and to increase recycled content.” Nevertheless, Walmart conducted business with JBS worth $1.68bn in 2018 and remains a leading customer of Cargill meats and other products.

E. Leclerc: E.Leclerc is a French retail chain, with more than 600 locations in France and more than 120 stores outside of the country. Of the supermarket chains in France, Leclerc has perhaps the least robust sustainability policies. A recent report by SherpaFrance Nature Environment and Mighty Earth shows Leclerc failing on soy sustainability measures across the board. The company refuses to join industry calls to protect the endangered Cerrado, has not fulfilled legal obligations to disclose its sources, and has neither develop an alert mechanism to identify risk or follow up on deforestation alerts provided by others.  E.Leclerc’s latest sustainability report makes no commitments on meat sourcing, or any other commodity but palm oil.

By night forest fires can be seen for miles, tearing through Brazil’s Cerrado ecosystems. Photo credit: 2017, Jim Wickens/Ecostorm

A Preventable Disaster

While the rate of burning has increased dramatically in the last several months in response to Bolsonaro’s policies, these companies have been driving deforestation for years across South America. In many cases, they have bitterly resisted efforts to create systems that would allow for agriculture to expand without deforestation.

Bolsonaro’s mobilization of the army to fight the fires may help in the short term, as will Bolivian president Evo Morales’ new willingness to accept international help to fight fires. But as long as these international companies are creating a market for beef, pork, and chicken that is indifferent to deforestation, this type of environmental disaster is likely to continue.

After years of remarkably successful conservation initiatives that cut Brazil’s deforestation rate by two-thirds, Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro has reopened the doors to rampant destruction as a favor to the agribusiness lobby that backs him. That industry is accountable for the atmosphere of lawlessness, deforestation, fires, and the murder of Indigenous peoples that followed. According to data released by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon in July 2019 increased 278 percent over the previous July. Bolsonaro responded to this news by firing the head of the INPE.

The recent fires are the latest example of the cattle and soy industries trying to take advantage of a culture of impunity in both Brazil and Bolivia. Since January 2019, more than 74,000 fires have broken out across Brazil – an 85 percent increase from the same point in 2018. In Bolivia, 2.5 million acres have burned in two weeks.

These are not wildfires. Nearly all are the result of intentional land clearing attempts undertaken by ranchers and industrial soy farmers feeding global markets and international companies. In fact, on August 10, farmers in the Amazon held a “Day of Fire” to show their support for Bolsonaro’s policies.

According to the Smithsonian Institute, these fires, which are large enough to see their effects from space, pose a significant threat to the “lungs” of the planet, one of the world’s last best defenses against climate change.

The deforestation crisis in Brazil and Bolivia wouldn’t be happening without companies like Cargill, Bunge, and JBS and their customers – companies like Stop & Shop, McDonald’s, Burger King, and Sysco – who create the market demand that finances the destruction.

It’s Not Just Fires. Your Phone Is Also Destroying The Amazon.

“You could drop a nuclear bomb on the forest, and it would be better than mining it.”

Last updated on August 31, 2019, at 12:00 p.m. ET

Posted on August 31, 2019, at 11:37 a.m. ET

Cris Bouroncle / AFP / Getty Images

An aerial view over a chemically deforested area of the Amazon jungle caused by illegal mining activities in the river basin of the Madre de Dios region in southeast Peru, on May 17, 2019, during the ‘Mercury’ joint operation by Peruvian military and police ongoing since February 2019.

The wildfires ripping through the Amazon have drawn the world’s attention to the destruction of the “lungs of the planet.” Many scientists believe cattle ranchers clearing land caused the flames, spurring groups around the world — including the government of Finland — to call for a boycott of Brazilian beef. But to boycott all of the products damaging the Amazon, you’d have to do much more than give up steak. You’d have to toss out your phone, laptop, wedding band, and anything else with gold in it.

“There’s no way to get the gold out without destroying the forest. The more acres you cut down, the more gold you get. It’s directly proportional,” Miles Silman, the cofounder of Wake Forest University’s Center for Amazonian Scientific Innovation (CINCIA), told

“There’s no way to get the gold out without destroying the forest.”

Fueling that demand is not just the world’s appetite for gold bars and jewelry — the largest categories for which gold is used — but also high tech. Tiny electrical currents are constantly running through your iPhone, Alexa speaker, and laptop — and carrying those currents is gold, a fantastic conductor of electricity that’s also resistant to corrosion. While there isn’t much gold inside a single device — an iPhone 6, for example, contains 0.014 grams, or around 50 cents’ worth — in the aggregate, the amount is staggering. According to market researcher Gartner, over 1.5 billion smartphones were sold last year, with 1.3 billion of them being Android devices. It was followed by 215 million iOS devices.

So the tech industry, which consumes nearly 335 tons of gold yearly, will only need more and more of the metal. “There’s a gold rush in the Amazon right now that’s just like the gold rush that happened in California in the 1850s,” said Silman.

According to a 2018 CINCIA study, artisanal mining, or small-scale mining conducted by independent miners, have uprooted nearly 250,000 acres of rainforest in the Madre de Dios region of Peru, where Silman focuses his work. Another study, by researchers at the University of Puerto Rico in 2015, found that approximately 415,000 acres of tropical forest across South America has been lost to gold mining. A map compiled by environmental group Amazon Geo-Referenced Socio-Environmental Information Network shows 2,312 illegal mining sites in 245 areas across six countries, which the group called an “epidemic.”

And just as the California gold rush gave rise to a lawlessness that took generations to tame, the tech industry’s suppliers can’t always meet demand and sometimes turn to the Amazon’s illegal mining economy.

Afp / AFP / Getty Images

An artisan miner shows a piece of gold after extraction and processing on May 6, 2008 in El Ingenio, Peru, 420 kms south of Lima. Artisan mining accounts for the livelihood of more than 40 thousand Peruvian families, though almost 15% of the nation’s gold production comes from this activity. Since the 1980s many extracting camps have been converted into small mining towns lacking basic services and containing high levels of pollution.

Miami Herald investigation in 2018 detailed how a handful of traders from Southern Florida–based precious metals company NTR Metals bought $3.6 billion of gold from outlaw mines across South America. NTR Metals has since been shut down and the traders arrested. The company was a subsidiary of Elemetal, a major US gold refinery that supplied Tiffany & Co. and other consumer brands, like Apple, which said it stopped working with the supplier, in corporate disclosures for the year 2017 and 2018.

Apple is far from the only tech giant that sources gold from the Amazon region. A review of corporate disclosures by BuzzFeed News found that Amazon (the company), AppleSamsungSony, and Google list refiners Asahi and Metalor as suppliers. In turn, these firms, based respectively in Switzerland and Japan, buy some of their gold from South American mines. According to the Herald, those companies buy from brokers, who source their gold from a range of legal and illegal mines in the region.

Companies like Alphabet, the parent company of Google, are aware of the impacts of gold mining in the Amazon, and have taken steps to address it. A Google company spokesperson pointed to its conflict minerals policy, and says it relies on third party audits to ensure that smelters are in compliance. Samsung, Sony, and Amazon did not return a request for comment. Apple told BuzzFeed News all its gold refiners participate in third party audits. “If a refiner is unable or unwilling to meet our standards, they will be removed from our supply chain,” an Apple spokesperson said it a statement. “Since 2015, we’ve stopped working with 60 refiners of gold for this reason.”

Dirty gold doesn’t just end up in electronics. A 2015 report by Ojo Publico reported that companies with ties to the London Bullion Market Association — an organization that determines the international price of gold — acquired precious metal from illegal mining camps in Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil.

“A part of the problem with gold is that it all goes into one melting pot. So you can have a bar of gold where some of it comes from responsible sources, some of it comes from illegal sources, but it looks like one bar of gold,” said Sarah duPont, president of the Amazon Aid Foundation.

That illegal and dirty gold extraction takes a toll on the environment and the humans who mine it. Compared to soybean farming or cattle ranching, the mining industry clears fewer acres of forest from the Amazon.

However, according to Silman, the carbon emissions of mining can make the industry’s environmental footprint between three to eight times as big as the surface acres lost to mining might suggest. In addition to uprooting trees and other plants, miners dig two to four meters deep into the ground, where soil is rich in carbon. That soil can be thousands of years old, and gold mining liberates that carbon back into the atmosphere, killing nutrients in the dirt that are vital to plants in the rainforest.

“If you think about an Amazonian forest, there’s nothing you do that’s worse to it than alluvial mining.”

“The growth rates around the mines are so slow because you’ve washed everything that’s good out of the soil,” Silman explained.

Gold mining also transforms the landscape in another way: “1 out of every 5 acres converted by mining can’t be reforested because it’s converted into a body of water. So it ends up looking like Minnesota, with thousands of lakes all across the landscape,” said Silman. “If you think about an Amazonian forest, there’s nothing you do that’s worse to it than alluvial mining. You could drop a nuclear bomb on the forest, and it would be better than mining it.”

On top of the environmental devastation, mercury, used as an amalgam to retrieve gold from the dirt, contaminates the region’s water and food supply. According to the US National Institute of Health, artisanal and small-scale gold mining is the leading source of mercury released into the environment. Researchers have found high levels of mercury, which has serious health effects on the nervous, digestive, and immune systems, in people living along the Brazil–Venezuela border, the Madre de Dios area of Peru, and in Suriname.

Joao Laet / AFP / Getty Images

Aerial view of the Esperanca IV informal gold mining camp, near the Menkragnoti indigenous territory, in Altamira, Para state, Brazil, in the Amazon basin, on August 28, 2019.

Despite the dangers, gold mining in the Amazon region is unlikely to slow down. Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has loosened the country’s environmental laws and is working to open up more of the Amazon to mining. Bolsonaro fired the head of the country’s agency that tracks deforestation, after a report that some 1,330 square milesof Amazonian forest in Brazil had been lost since the president took office in January — a 39% increase over last year.

What can be done? According to Kevin Telmer, executive director of the Artisanal Gold Council, an organization working to professionalize and train the sector, the environmental problem is linked to that of extreme poverty.

Banning small-scale mining would not be effective, according to Telmer: “People have asked the miners to leave for 40 years and they haven’t. What [bans] do is drive the economy into the black market.”

“What’s needed really is sustainable economic pathways for those individuals who are currently pursuing illegal mining,” said Payal Sampat, the mining program director at Earthworks, a nonprofit that started a campaign called No Dirty Gold in 2008. Sampat added that buying vintage jewelry and holding on to electronics for longer is a good way for consumers to cut down on their gold consumption.

Silman, the CINCIA researcher, agrees. Legally placed mines, he said, are at least confined to a small area, instead of thousands of mines sprawled across a landscape. Taxing mining operations could also help money flow back into job placement and other programs: “There was $3 billion made out of Madre de Dios, and a lot of it flowed through mafias. There’s a little over 100,000 people living in that land, and they would have had $300 million of tax revenue,” he said.

The formalization and professionalization of the sector can help miners be more productive, and be less impactful on the environment, too, Silman said: “Once you do all these things, at least you can get some good from mining, and you still don’t destroy all the opportunities for the future that rely on biodiversity.”

The Amazon is burning because the world eats so much meat

(CNN)While the wildfires raging in the Amazon rainforest may constitute an “international crisis,” they are hardly an accident.

The vast majority of the fires have been set by loggers and ranchers to clear land for cattle. The practice is on the rise, encouraged by Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s populist pro-business president, who is backed by the country’s so-called “beef caucus.”
While this may be business as usual for Brazil’s beef farmers, the rest of the world is looking on in horror.
So, for those wondering how they could help save the rainforest, known as “the planet’s lungs” for producing about 20% of the world’s oxygen, the answer may be simple. Eat less meat.
It’s an idea that Finland has already floated. On Friday, the Nordic country’s finance minister called for the European Union to “urgently review the possibility of banning Brazilian beef imports” over the Amazon fires.
Brazil is the world’s largest exporter of beef, providing close to 20% of the total global exports, according the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) — a figure that could rise in the coming years.
Last year the country shipped 1.64 million tonnes of beef — the highest volume in history — generating $6.57 billion in revenue, according to the Brazilian Beef Exporters Association (Abiec), an association of more than 30 Brazilian meat-packing companies.
The growth of Brazil’s beef industry has been driven in part by strong demand from Asia — mostly China and Hong Kong. These two markets alone accounted for nearly 44% of all beef exports from Brazil in 2018, according to the USDA.
And a trade deal struck in June between South America’s Mercosur bloc of countries and the European Union could open up even more markets for Brazil’s beef-packing industry.
Speaking after the agreement as announced, the head of Abiec, Antônio Camardelli, said the pact could help Brazil gain access to prospective new markets, like Indonesia and Thailand, while boosting sales with existing partners, like the EU. “A deal of this magnitude is like an invitation card for speaking with other countries and trade blocs,” Camardelli told Reuters in July.
Once implemented, the deal will lift a 20% levy on beef imports into the EU.
But, on Friday, Ireland said it was ready to block the deal unless Brazil took action on the Amazon.
In a statement Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar described as “Orewellian” Bolsonaro’s attempt to blame the fires on environmental groups. Varadkar said that Ireland will monitor Brazil’s environmental actions to determine whether to block the Mercosur deal, which is two years away.
He added Irish and European farmers could not be told to use fewer pesticides and respect biodiversity when trade deals were being made with countries not subjected to “decent environmental, labor and product standards.”
In June, before the furor over the rainforest began, the Irish Farmers Association called on Ireland not to ratify the deal, arguing its terms would disadvantage European beef farmers.
Deal or no deal, Brazil’s beef industry is projected to continue expanding, buoyed by natural resources, grassland availability and global demand, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
And, with that growth, comes steep environmental costs.
Brazil’s space research center (INPE) said this week that the number of fires in Brazil is 80% higher than last year. More than half are in the Amazon region, spelling disaster for the local environment and ecology.
Alberto Setzer, a senior scientist at INPE, told CNN that the burning can range from a small-scale agricultural practice, to new deforestation for mechanized and modern agribusiness projects.
Farmers wait until the dry season to start burning and clearing areas so their cattle can graze, but this year’s destruction has been described as unprecedented. Environmental campaigners blame this uptick on Bolsonaro, who they say has encouraged ranchers, farmers, and loggers to exploit and burn the rainforest like never before with a sense of impunity.

Brush fires burn in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso on August 20.

Bolsonaro has dismissed accusations of responsibility for the fires, but a clear shift seems to be underway.
And if saving the rainforest isn’t enough to convince carnivores to stop eating Brazilian beef — the greenhouse gas emissions the cattle create may be.
Beef is responsible for 41% of livestock greenhouse gas emissions, and that livestock accounts for 14.5% of total global emissions. And methane — the greenhouse gas cattle produce from both ends — is 25 times more potent that carbon dioxide.
An alarming report released last year by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, said changing our diets could contribute 20% of the effort needed to keep global temperatures from rising 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Namely, eating less meat.
Still, global consumption of beef and veal is set to rise in the next decade according to projections from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
A joint report predicted global production would increase 16% between 2017 and 2027 to meet demand.
The majority of that expansion will be in developing countries, like Brazil.

The Global Beef Trade Is Destroying the Amazon

The cows grazed under a hot sun near a wooden bridge spanning a river in the Amazon. The quiet was occasionally broken by a motorbike growling along a dirt road that cut through the sprawling cattle ranch.

But the idyllic pasture was on land that the Lagoa do Triunfo ranch has been forbidden to use for cattle since 2010, when it was embargoed by Brazil’s environment agency Ibama as a punishment for deforestation. Nearby there were more signs of fresh pasture: short grass, feeding troughs, and fresh salt used to feed cattle — all in apparent contravention of rules designed to protect vital rainforest.

This vast 145,000 hectare ranch is one of several owned by AgroSB Agropecuária SA — a company known in the region as Santa Barbara. Located in an environmentally protected area, Lagoa do Triunfo is more than 600km from the capital of the Amazon state of Pará, on the western fringes of Brazil’s “agricultural frontier” — where farming eats into the rainforest.

The investigation found that last year the Lagoa do Triunfo ranch delivered hundreds of heads of cattle to some of Santa Barbara’s other farms for the final stage of fattening. Cattle was then sent from those farms to slaughter in JBS plants. Using GPS and publicly available maps and locations, reporters located cattle and pasture inside embargoed areas at Lagoa do Triunfo.

The revelations come as work by Trase, an NGO, shared exclusively with our team, has revealed how huge swathes of felled rainforest can be traced back to this cattle trade — and how beef raised on deforested land ends up in international supply chains.

Embargoes — restrictions that ban farmers guilty of deforestation or environmental damage from using parts of their own land — are imposed by the Brazilian government and serve both as a punishment and a protective measure to allow land to recover. They can be more effective than fines because they come at a higher cost for farmers.

But our investigative team visited land clearly demarcated as embargoed on government websites, and found grazing cows there. A worker at the ranch said that cattle were left to roam in areas employees knew were embargoed. “You can’t cut down the vegetation,” the employee said. “The vegetation grows and we work the cattle inside.”

Santa Barbara is an enormous, powerful ranching empire, owned by the billionaire Daniel Dantas, that controls half a million hectares across Pará. In 2008 Dantas was twice arrested on bribery charges and handed a ten-year sentence as a result of a corruption investigation that also saw his land confiscated. The investigation’s findings were subsequently overturned, the sentence dropped and Dantas got all his land back.

Over the past decade, according to Repórter Brasil, Santa Barbara has been accused of illegal deforestation and faced allegations of using slave-like labour — accusations it strongly denies. Lagoa do Triunfo is one of its largest ranches. There are 12 separate embargoed areas on it, dating from 2010 to 2013.

The Wild West on the Edge of the Amazon

With a population of 125,000 people and over two million cattle, the nearby town of Sao Félix do Xingu, in Pará state, covers an area bigger than Scotland. Cattle ranching fed its growth from remote Amazon outpost to busy town. And there is money here: farmers’ wives are happy to pay $600 for a handbag, said Kelli Moraes, a 25-year-old sales assistant. “They are very fashion.”

Sao Félix do Xingu was mostly forest when Arlindo Rosa, now president of the town’s union of rural producers, arrived in 1993. “There was practically none of this farming … there was no highway, there was nothing,” he said.

“People came from outside with the spirit to raise cattle,” said his vice-president, Francisco Torres, who arrived in 1987. Santa Barbara, the region’s biggest ranching company, began buying land near Sao Félix do Xingu in 2006, Torres said.

Torres said many ranches in the area have suffered Ibama embargoes. “If they removed those embargoes, a lot would improve,” said Rosa. As is common with farmers and landowners in Amazon areas, both men were critical of what they saw as overzealous environmental controls. Rosa owes $1.4 million to Ibama in fines for deforestation, according to the agency’s website.

But embargoes have not stopped Santa Barbara illegally grazing cattle on deforested land, nor JBS being able to perfectly legally do business with the company, our investigation found.

JBS Beef Brazil’s “responsible procurement policy” says it “does not purchase animals from farms involved in deforestation of native forests … or that are embargoed” by Ibama. But the company has also said that the common practice of transferring cattle from one farm to another for fattening can make it impossible to trace individual cows.

Official state documents seen by the Bureau, the Guardian and Repórter Brasil showed that from January to October 2018, Santa Barbara delivered at least 296 cattle from the Lagoa do Triunfo ranch to its Espiríto Santo ranch in Xinguara, in the same state. Between July 2018 and January this year, Santa Barbara sent 2,900 cattle from the Espiríto Santo ranch to JBS slaughterhouses.

Throughout 2018, Santa Barbara also sent at least 729 cattle from the Lagoa do Triunfo ranch to be fattened at its Porto Rico ranch in Xinguara. In April 2018, 36 cattle from the Porto Rico ranch were sent to slaughter at a JBS plant.

JBS said that 99.9% of its cattle purchases meet its socio-environmental criteria and that it was working to implement “a new procedure to cover all links in the supply chain” and stop the use of “cattle from illegally deforested areas”.

Santa Barbara said it did not carry out deforestation to increase its area “but rather recovers degraded areas” and turns them into pastures. It said that trees on the Lagoa do Triunfo ranch had been felled before the Forest Code was introduced and that only 7% of the land is under embargo.

New research tracking beef cattle back to the ranches they were raised on has revealed the full extent of deforestation in the Amazon that is linked to a handful of global food corporations.

Trase, a supply chain research project developed by the Stockholm Environment Institute and Global Canopy, tracked livestock from deforested areas to abattoirs producing beef for international markets, as well as meat for domestic use. Up to 5,800 square kilometres of forest is being felled in the Amazon and other areas every year for cattle ranching.

The destruction of between 280-320 sq km of forest each year is linked to JBS’s supply chain for exported beef, according to the data assembled by Trase. There is no suggestion any Lagoa do Triunfo beef is exported.

JBS, which slaughters almost 35,000 cattle in Brazil per day, has faced a string of allegations relating to deforestation. In 2017, Brazil’s environmental protection agency, Ibama, raided and ordered the suspension of two JBS meat-packing plants in Pará accused of having purchased cattle raised on illegally deforested land between 2013 and 2016.

JBS denied the allegations but was fined R$24.7 million ($8 million). In the same year, a Guardian investigation with Repórter Brasil revealed how the company had purchased cattle linked to poor labour conditions and deforestation, resulting in UK supermarket Waitrose removing the company’s products from its shelves.

The findings come amid growing international concern over the looming impacts of climate change, with the Amazon forest seen by experts as a crucial buffer in stabilising regional and global climate.

Between 1980 and 2005, Amazon deforestation levels reached 20,000 sq km per year — with an area the size of Wales being lost. Although there have been political murmurings about trying to halt the destruction, the latest data shows that deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has risen by 73% since 2012.

Erasmus zu Ermgassen, lead researcher at Trase, said: “Though some slaughterhouses monitor their direct suppliers and so in theory can avoid farms associated with deforestation, none monitor their indirect suppliers, who make up the bulk of their supply chain.”

Trase added: “There is a huge opportunity to reduce the deforestation associated with the production and exports of beef in Brazil. There is enormous potential to use land more efficiently and sustainably in the Brazilian beef sector, and to improve rural livelihoods by investing in cattle ranching on existing pasturelands.”

Trase will release the data in full later this month.

INCREASING FREQUENCY OF DROUGHT IS CHANGING THE AMAZON FROM CARBON SINK TO SOURCE

New research finds just one season of drought can reduce the carbon dioxide absorption ability of the world’s biggest rainforest—the Amazon—for years to come.
GettyImages-874928338 (1)

(Photo: Jody Amiet/AFP/Getty Images)

Because they take vast amounts of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, rainforests are an important part of the planet’s carbon cycle and their conservation is playing front and center in major international efforts to combat global warming. But new research finds just one season of drought can reduce the carbon dioxide absorption ability of the world’s biggest rainforest—the Amazon—for years to come.

And as droughts seem to be occurring more frequently in rainforests, scientists worry that these important carbon sinks may instead become carbon sources.

In a study published recently in Nature, scientists at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory used lidar data captured by satellites to map changes in forest canopy in the Amazon following a particularly severe drought in 2005. Lidar, which stands for “Light Detection and Ranging” uses lasers to measure distances and create three-dimensional representations of surface features like canyons, craters, and, in this case, trees.

By mapping the Amazon’s tree cover using lidar, the NASA researchers were able to find and quantify gaps in tree cover caused by drought-induced leaf loss and tree death. They discovered that, on average, the most affected parts of the rainforest lost around 35 inches in the years following the 2005 drought.

This is because, when a rainforest tree is stressed by drought, one of its first responses is to shed its leaves. If the drought continues too long, the tree will die. Taller trees tend to die first in a drought because, simply put, they need more water and it’s harder to pump that water up, say, 50 feet than it is to get it up five.

When these tall trees die, they bring down the overall height of the forest around them. Big trees also sequester a disproportionate amount of carbon dioxide, so their loss means a forest is not able to store as much carbon as it once did. And as the big trees decompose, their stored carbon is released back into the atmosphere, tilting a forest’s carbon budget from sink toward source.

The researchers found that, added up, drought-caused forest changes in the Amazon between 2005 and 2008 (the last year for which data was available) translate to 270 million metric tons of lost carbon annually.

Rainforests not only react to climate—they also create it. Last year, scientists discovered that much of the rain that falls in a rainforest comes from water vapor that trees release through their leaves. But if a drought makes trees lose their leaves, then this water doesn’t get added back to the atmosphere, making it likelier that another drought will happen.

“The pervasive drought legacies in these ecosystems may have long-term effects on the tropical carbon sink and the overall terrestrial carbon budget, leading to an accelerated positive feedback to regional and global climate,” the researchers write in their study.

The study only looked at the years following the 2005 drought, which was so severe that it would normally be a once-in-a-century event. But with two other similarly severe droughts following closely in 2010 and 2015, this seems to no longer be the case.

The researchers write that if this is indeed the new normal for the Amazon rainforest, then the consequences could be dire both for the Amazon and for a world that depends on it to regulate the global climate: “Our results clearly indicate that the Amazon forests may lose their role as a robust sink of atmospheric carbon in the face of repeated severe droughts.”

This story originally appeared at the website of global conservation news service Mongabay.com. Get updates on their stories delivered to your inbox, or follow @Mongabay on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.