Brazilian meat giant JBS said on Wednesday it would monitor its entire supply chain by 2025, including problematic Amazon ‘indirect supplier’ farms over which it currently has no control, some of which are linked to illegal deforestation.
“As a company, we accept our responsibility to be an agent of transformation of society, to be a catalyst. Building a better world, a more sustainable Amazon and a better Brazil with everyone, ”said JBS Global CEO Gilberto Tomazoni at the virtual launch of the JBS Green Platform.
The announcement marks a turnaround for the world’s largest meat company. Environmentalists saw it as a positive step, but some said the delay was too long to resolve such an urgent problem.
Cattle ranching is the main driver of deforestation in the Amazon, and Brazil is under increasing pressure from international investors and other countries due to increasing devastation and fires. With Wednesday’s announcement, JBS is the third Brazilian meat company to start responding to the pressure.
The company said its green platform would use blockchain technology and livestock movement documents, known as GTAs (used for sanitary control), and that vendors that do not cooperate and comply will not be able to sell to the company. It will initially deploy the platform in the state of Mato Grosso, which has the largest cattle herd in Brazil.
“What we do will have a significant impact on the lives of future generations,” said Tomazoni.
JBS will invest a minimum of £ 35million and match other donations totaling £ 71million to create an Amazon Fund to foster sustainable development in communities across the region. One of Brazil’s leading climatologists, Carlos Nobre, will sit on the fund’s advisory board. “If it works, it will reduce deforestation, because 80 to 90% of the first deforestation is cattle grazing,” Nobre said of the new tracing program. “This will have to be evaluated.”
The industry’s problems with Amazon suppliers are well documented and were outlined in a 2009 Greenpeace report. After its publication, Brazilian meat companies struck deals with Greenpeace and federal prosecutors and set up complex systems to monitor farms that sell directly to their slaughterhouses.
But in Brazil, few cattle farms manage the entire life cycle of their animals, instead sourcing cattle brought into the world or fattened on other farms – the so-called “indirect suppliers”. And despite the promise to monitor these indirect suppliers by 2011 in the agreement signed two years earlier with Greenpeace, the meat companies JBS, Minerva and Marfrig have so far failed. Since July 2019, five investigations by The Guardian, Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Brazilian agency Repórter Brasil, Greenpeace and Amnesty International have linked JBS providers to illegal deforestation.
As the pressure mounted, large companies complained to Brazilian ambassadors and met with Brazilian vice president Hamilton Mourão, in charge of his Amazon Council, and congress leaders.
Nordea Asset Management – the investment arm of Northern Europe’s largest financial services group – withdrew JBS from its portfolio in July. Last week, a group of European countries – the German-led Amsterdam Declaration Partnership – urged Brazil to act in the Amazon. On Monday, a coalition of NGOs and indigenous groups warned French food retailer Groupe Casino to stop selling beef linked to deforestation in Brazil and Colombia.
In July, Brazilian meat company Marfrig promised to monitor all of its suppliers in 2025 using systems like Visipec – developed by the University of Wisconsin and the National Wildlife Federation and made available for free. The meat company Minerva is also testing the Visipec system. So far, JBS had promised to resolve its supply chain issues, but had not provided any timeframe.
“This is great because it recognizes that oversight of indirect suppliers is necessary. But the delay is very long, ”said Mauro Armelin, executive director of Friends of the Earth for the Brazilian Amazon. “He could already start using Visipec while he develops his own tool, and he should set deadlines depending on the slaughterhouse, so that plants close to conservation units and native lands where there is deforestation have shorter deadlines. “
Others were very critical, noting that JBS had promised to monitor its indirect suppliers by 2011.
“The company is now giving itself five more years to continue to allow deforestation, illegality and human rights abuses in its supply chain in an effort to appease its investors,” said Adriana Charoux, main forestry activist of Greenpeace Brasil. “It is simply unacceptable. The Amazon will then have burned down. She also noted that the JBS Green Platform did not include the Pantanal wetlands or areas of Cerrado, where fires are currently raging.
Some investors were also skeptical. “JBS’s 2025 target for cattle tracing is too far away, we need immediate action,” said Jeanett Bergan, responsible investment manager at Norway’s largest pension fund, KLP. “This is a positive step, but we need to see the detailed evidence in practice, especially given the controversies that have led the company to become a major divestment target around the world.”
Eric Pedersen, Head of Responsible Investments at Nordea Asset Management, said: “While blockchain solutions need time to develop, 2025 is still far away – and there are other measures that may be effective before that, for example example tighter controls so that livestock are not purchased from owners of licensed farms, if they also own farms on disputed land. “
Marcio Astrini, executive secretary of the Climate Observatory, a coalition of environmental groups, welcomed the plan, but said JBS will need government help to make it work. “In theory, JBS can do what it promises. But to ensure it, they’ll need help with research from state and federal governments. “
Under far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, such help is unlikely, Astrini said. Bolsonaro refused to admit that Brazil has an environmental crisis in its hands. In his opening speech to the UN virtual general assembly on Tuesday, Bolsonaro insisted the country was the victim of “the most brutal disinformation campaigns on the Amazon and the Pantanal wetlands”.
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