Beef is still coming from protected areas in the Amazon, study shows (2023)

  • According to a new study, 1.1 million cattle were bought directly from protected areas and another 2.2 million spent at least a portion of their lives grazing in protected areas and Indigenous territories.
  • Researchers compiled public records on cattle transit, property boundaries and protected area boundaries between 2013 and 2018. The study period ended in 2018 because, “at the start of 2019, this critical information became less available,” the lead author said.
  • Under Brazil’s current President Jair Bolsonaro, who was elected at the start of 2019, the country has seen policies weakening various environmental protections and monitoring agencies, and deforestation has reached its highest levels in 15 years.
  • Around 70% of deforestation in the Amazon has been linked to cattle ranching. Meat producers have made commitments to stop sourcing from illegally deforested lands, but a lack of information about where cattle are grazing has allowed many companies to escape accountability.

Some of the world’s largest beef exporters are still buying cattle that grazed in protected areas of the Amazon rainforest, despite commitments to stop this practice, according to a new study.

The report, published today in the journal Conservation Lettersfound that millions of cattle grazed in protected areas (PAs) in the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso, Pará and Rondônia between 2013 and 2018.

“Protected areas are the cornerstone of Brazil’s conservation efforts and are arguably the most effective way that we have to conserve forests and the biodiversity inside of them,” Holly Gibbs, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the senior author of the study said in a press release. “That meatpackers are continuing to buy from properties in areas that are under strict protection is alarming.”

Beef is still coming from protected areas in the Amazon, study shows (1)

In Brazil, many meatpacking companies have made public commitments to stop sourcing beef from farms with illegal deforestation or that are not following environmental regulations. Those commitments, known as zero-deforestation cattle agreements, were first signed in 2009. The four largest meatpacking companies (JBS, Bertin, Minerva and Marfrig) also signed agreements to limit buying from protected areas.

Despite those pledges, nearly 1.1 million cattle were bought directly from protected areas and another 2.2 million spent at least a portion of their lives grazing in PAs and were then sent to finishing or “fattening” farms before being sold to meatpackers, according to the study.

To follow cattle from PAs to slaughterhouses, Gibbs and colleagues compiled public records on cattle transit, property boundaries and PA boundaries between 2013 and 2018. Most of the cattle were traced to “sustainable-use” areas, where some grazing is permitted, but nearly 925,000 came from strictly protected areas (20%) and Indigenous territories (8%) where commercial grazing is illegal.

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The study period ends in 2018, Gibbs said, because, “at the start of 2019, this critical information became less available.” Brazil’s current President Jair Bolsonaro was elected at the start of 2019. Since his election, the Brazilian Amazon has lost an area of forest larger than Belgium and recorded its highest deforestation rate in 15 years. There has also been a surge in the frequency of fires, which are often set after deforestationto clear the land forcattle ranching and soy farming.

“Protected territories in the Brazilian Amazon have served as shields against advancing deforestation pressures,” Clarissa Gandour, head of policy evaluation and conservation at the NGO Climate Policy Initiative, who was not involved in the research told Mongabay in an email. These territories’ effectiveness in protecting forests, “fundamentally hinges on Brazil’s capacity to enforce environmental law— this has been severely weakened in recent years, posing an enormous threat to forest protection.”

The Bolsonaro administration adoptedpoliciesweakening Brazil’s various environmental protection and monitoring agencies and made public records harder to obtain. That lack of transparency surrounding cattle movement has made it difficult for slaughterhouses to monitor their supply chain and account for cattle that spend time in PAs. It has also been much easier for meatpackers to break commitments and escape accountability.

“Lack of animal traceability allows ranchers to use legalized farms to conceal sales of cattle raised in illegal areas through false declarations of origin,” a practice some call “cattle washing,” as Repórter Brasil reported.

JBS, Marfrig, and Frigol, some of the largest meat producers in the world, were found to have purchased cattle from ranches associated with illegal deforestation and modern-day slave labor, according to a September 2019 investigation by Repórter Brasil. The companies blamed the lack of publicly available records.

Beef is still coming from protected areas in the Amazon, study shows (3)
Beef is still coming from protected areas in the Amazon, study shows (4)

“There is an appetite among retailers and investors — the parts of the value chain that slaughterhouses are responsive to — for more information about slaughterhouses’ performances, but right now that information is lacking,” said Lisa Rausch, a co-author of the paper and scientist at UW-Madison’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.

Cattle ranching plays an outsized role in the destruction of the Amazon. Around 70% of deforestation in the Amazon has been linked to cattle pastures. More than half of that loss occurred in Mato Grosso, Pará and Rondônia, the states examined in the study, which form the Amazon’s infamous arc of deforestation. Nearly half of the ranches linked to commercial grazing in protected areas have seen deforestation since 2019, according to the study.

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“Many slaughterhouses have gotten the message that being associated with deforestation is bad for their business, but they cannot address this issue without increased availability of information about their suppliers,” Rausch said.

“This is further evidence that we need more demand by investment banks, retailers and consumers for improved cattle traceability, transparency and accountability,” Gibbs said.

Deforestation monitoring systems currently used by meat companies look at direct suppliers or the finishing ranches. But a lot of deforestation happens via indirect suppliers, on the grazing ranches that cattle visit before finishing, robust monitoring is lacking.

“The paper’s findings stress the importance of advancing transparency mechanisms throughout the cattle ranching production chain,” Gandour said. “This is critical both for strengthening law enforcement capacity and for enabling accountability of production.”

Some efforts by the public and private sector to monitor indirect suppliers of cattle were underway, the study reported, such as the SeloVerde (Green Seal) tool available in Pará and Boas Práticas (Good Practices) implemented by the monitoring tool Visipec.

Additionally, the NGO Trasehas worked to map the supply chains of commodities such as soy, beef and palm oil from where they are grown to the final buyer, allowing buyers to determine if their goods came from an area with deforestation.

Satellite data from the University of Maryland show much of Triunfo do Xingu has been cleared since 2001.

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Almost half of the cattle sold directly from PAs to slaughterhouses and meatpackers came from just a few protected areas, namely the Triunfo do Xingu and Chapada dos Guimarães environmental protection areas in Pará and Mato Grosso states, according to Gibbs and colleagues.

Zeroing in on those areas “highlights key opportunities for policymakers to craft targeted interventions,” the authors wrote, “which can result in quicker and more effective outcomes needed to protect critical biodiversity, reduce carbon emissions, and support regional climate benefits generated by forests.”

Banner image: Cattle ranching is the primary cause of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon today, with much of the meat exported. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

Citation:

West, A.P.T., Rausch L., Munger, J., Gibbs, H. K. (2022) Protected areas still used to produce Brazil’s cattle. Conservation Letters. doi:10.1111/conl.12916

Cerri,C.E., Cerri,C.C., Maia,S.M., Cherubin,M.R., Feigl,B.J., & Lal,R. (2018). Reducing Amazon deforestation through agricultural intensification in the Cerrado for advancing food security and mitigating climate change. Sustainability, 10(4), 989. doi:10.3390/su10040989

Liz Kimbroughis a staff writer for Mongabay. Find her on Twitter:@lizkimbrough_

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FAQs

Are there protected areas in the Amazon rainforest? ›

Evidently, Brazilian environmental policy has created a sustainable core of protected areas in the Amazon that buffers against potential climate-tipping points and protects the drier ecosystems of the basin.

What percentage of Amazon rainforest destruction is linked to beef production? ›

Cattle ranching accounts for 80% of current deforestation throughout the Amazon.

How much of the Amazon is cleared for cattle? ›

As much as 90 percent of all forest that's been cleared in the Brazilian Amazon is now covered in pasture, most of which is for cattle.

What are government protected areas in the Amazon? ›

What is ARPA? The Amazon Region Protected Areas (ARPA) programme is knitting together sweeping safeguards for the tropical forests of the Amazon to ensure the survival of some of the Earth's richest biological treasures.

How much of the Amazon is protected 2022? ›

Almost half the Amazon has been designated either a protected area or Indigenous territory, and only 14% of all deforestation takes place there. Currently, about 100m hectares of Indigenous land are under dispute or awaiting formal government recognition.

Is there still parts of the Amazon unexplored? ›

Today the potentialities of the Amazon River and its incomparable basin of some 2,722,000 square miles - over twice the estimated drainage area of the Mississippi and its combined tributaries - is still a vast region of undiscovered treasure.

Why does beef production cause deforestation? ›

Beef is the #1 cause of deforestation

Consumer demand for burgers and steaks accelerates deforestation at an unsustainable rate. The more beef people consume, the more trees the beef industry consumes to clear land for cattle and feed.

What is the main cause of Amazon deforestation? ›

The leading drivers of deforestation in the Amazon are:

Uncurbed expansion of ranching and unsustainable farming practices clear forests and leaves areas more prone to fires that can quickly become uncontrolled.

How does the beef industry contribute to deforestation? ›

Beef production is the top driver of deforestation in the world's tropical forests. The forest conversion it generates more than doubles that generated by the production of soy, palm oil, and wood products (the second, third, and fourth biggest drivers) combined.

How long will it take for the Amazon to be gone? ›

With the current rate of deforestation, the world's rainforests will be gone by 2100.

What are the problems with cattle ranching in the Amazon? ›

Cattle ranching in the Amazon is often criticized in the scientific literature because of its numerous harmful consequences on economic, social and ecological grounds (deforestation, land concentration, biodiversity loss, land tenure concentration, and small contribution to regional development).

How do you stop cattle ranching in the Amazon? ›

Livestock also benefits from the shade and add fertilizer to the base of the trees as they take refuge from the sun. Other measures include fencing off healthy forest areas and waterways from livestock, curtailing the use of fire in land management, adopting no-till cropping systems, and the use of terracing.

Is the Amazon under threat? ›

As the countries of the Amazon become increasingly integrated into the global economy and there is increased demand for ever-limited natural resources, efforts to protect the region continue to be threatened by unsustainable economic demands.

How much of the Amazon is unprotected? ›

Some 224,000 square miles of forest, an area larger than France, is undesignated, meaning it does not belong to a national park, Indigenous territory, or other protected area.

How many government protected areas are there in the Amazon? ›

In the case of the 692 protected natural areas in the Amazon region, 193 (28 percent) suffer three kinds of threat or pressure, and 188 (27 percent) suffer threats or pressure from two activities.

Is the Amazon rainforest still being cut down 2022? ›

This uptick in deforestation has been accompanied by increases in fires recorded: From January to August 2022, there was a 16.7% increase in fire hotspots in the Amazon compared to the same time period in 2021 – the highest rate since 2019. The numbers don't lie.

How much of the Amazon has been destroyed 2022? ›

In a newly released report, MAAP estimates that 13.2% of the original Amazon forest biome has been lost due to deforestation and other causes. This equates to more than 85 million hectares (211 million acres), an area about one-tenth the size of the United States or China.

How much of the Amazon will be left in 2030? ›

We found that by the year 2030, 55 percent of the forest will be either cleared or damaged — I think 31 percent cleared and 24 percent damaged by either logging or drought, with a large portion of that damaged forest catching fire. This produces a huge amount of emissions.

Is there a hidden city in the Amazon? ›

A search for El Dorado, a supposed city of gold, lured many Spanish explorers far off the map, and some of them never returned. As recently as the 20th century, British explorer Percy Fawcett searched for what he believed was the Lost City of Z.

Are there any unexplored areas in the United States? ›

Yes, there are. As an example, Ursa Minor Cave in Sequoia National Park was only discovered in 2006. And it was only found because some climbers spotted a soft-ball sized hole in a cliff, got curious and widened it out to where they could crawl inside.

Is there any unexplored land on Earth? ›

Several mountains in Himalayan country Bhutan are believed to be unconquered, namely the world's largest unclimbed mountain: Gangkhar Puensum. Unexplored areas around the world also include small islands, such as Pitcairn Island off of New Zealand, and Palmerston Island in the South Pacific.

Why is beef the worst for the climate? ›

How does beef production cause greenhouse gas emissions? The short answer: Through the agricultural production process and through land-use change. The longer explanation: Cows and other ruminant animals (like goats and sheep) emit methane, a potent greenhouse gas, as they digest grasses and plants.

Why beef is not good for environment? ›

But livestock's emissions also include methane, which is up to 34 times more damaging to the environment over 100 years than CO2, according to the UN. Beef produces the most greenhouse gas emissions, which include methane. A global average of 110lb (50kg) of greenhouse gases is released per 3.5oz of protein.

Does giving up beef help the environment? ›

By eating less beef, we can start to decrease that demand. You do not have to become a vegan to do this. According to one recent study, if every person in the U.S. cut their meat consumption by 25 percent, it would reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by 1 percent.

Who is to blame for deforestation in the Amazon? ›

Cattle ranching is the leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. In Brazil, this has been the case since at least the 1970s: government figures attributed 38 percent of deforestation from 1966-1975 to large-scale cattle ranching. Today the figure in Brazil is closer to 70 percent.

What is the biggest problem in the Amazon rainforest? ›

This vast untamed wilderness is under increasing threat from huge-scale farming and ranching, infrastructure and urban development, unsustainable logging, mining and climate change.

Who started Amazon deforestation? ›

Large-scale deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon began in the 1960s, when government incentives to clear land for production coincided with more effective tools such as chainsaws and bulldozers.

Who controls the beef industry? ›

The four major meat companies in the U.S.—Cargill, Tyson Foods, JBS, and National Beef Packing—control 55% to 85% of the hog, cattle, and chicken markets.

How much does beef affect the environment? ›

Meat production, especially beef production, is main driver of tropical deforestation, with around 80% of all converted land being used to rear cattle and 91% of Amazon land deforested since 1970 converted to cattle ranching.

What are the effects of beef production? ›

Beef production carries an enormous environmental footprint, contributing to land and water degradation, deforestation, acid rain, biodiversity loss, and even the degeneration of coral reef.

What will happen if the Amazon is completely destroyed? ›

Burning away the Amazon would condemn millions of living species to extinction and destroy their habitats. Many of these plants, animals, and other forms of life haven't even been identified by science yet.

Is the Amazon drying up? ›

With fewer trees in the east to recycle moisture due to drought and deforestation, the rest of the Amazon also becomes drier. “The lack of moisture recycling in some parts of the forest can be propagated downwind … resulting in approximately one-third of all tipping events,” the paper says.

Why is the Amazon rainforest being destroyed cattle? ›

To meet the global demand for meat, vast areas of land in the Amazon are being destroyed to make space for cattle ranching. This activity is the largest cause of deforestation in the Amazon, accounting for around 80 percent of the destruction, and also the release of 340 million tons of carbon per year.

How many trees in the Amazon have been lost due to cattle ranching for food production? ›

According to one report, an estimated 70 percent of deforestation in the Amazon basin can be attributed to cattle ranching.

Is cattle ranching illegal in the Amazon? ›

While, on the one hand, the lack of titles causes legal insecurity and local conflicts, on the other, it is also a factor in explaining the profitable expansion of cattle ranching in the Amazon: though it is illegal, the land is cheaper and more accessible. For many, the risk is worthwhile.

What are the benefits of cattle ranching in the Amazon? ›

It's the how not the cow

Together they contribute to 23.5% of the country's GDP, 25% of its jobs and 46% of exports. There's no sign of it slowing down. Agriculture and livestock are essential to the livelihoods of rural populations and Brazil is “set for another 20 years of agricultural growth”.

Why should we stop cutting down the Amazon rainforest? ›

Preserving tropical forests helps protect the millions of plant and animal species—many of which have been invaluable to human medicine—that are indigenous to tropical forests and in danger of extinction. Keeping forests intact also helps prevent floods and drought by regulating regional rainfall.

What ended long cattle drives? ›

The End of Cattle Drives:

It began shortly after the Civil War and ended once the railroads reached Texas. This transportation system provided a route for beef to travel safely from the farms and ranches where it was produced to the markets where it was sold.

Is Amazon killing the environment? ›

Amazon generated 71.54 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent last year, about as much pollution as 180 gas-fired power plants might pump out annually.

How safe is the Amazon? ›

Amazon is an overall safe platform, but scammers still try to exploit it for their gains. Various Amazon scams exist ranging from phishing emails with malicious links to fake gift cards or simply not delivering goods you purchased.

Can people survive in the Amazon? ›

Life in the rainforest is limited to a few indigenous communities, although the place is full of food and water, the survival in these areas is almost impossible unless you have the knowledge and the necessary skills. Many soldiers who were lost in these areas have not been unable to return home alive.

Are they still burning the Amazon? ›

Fire doesn't occur naturally in the Amazon, but is set deliberately by people in a pattern of intentional, often illegal, deforestation to clear the land for crops and cattle. But in 2020, a startling number of major fires (41%) burned in standing, living Amazon rainforest, where fires have not historically occurred.

What percent of the Amazon has been destroyed? ›

About 17 percent of the Amazonian rainforest has been destroyed over the past 50 years, and losses recently have been on the rise. The organization Amazon Conservation reports that destruction rose by 21 percent in 2020, a loss the size of Israel.

What are the positives of government protected areas in the Amazon? ›

Evidently, Brazilian environmental policy has created a sustainable core of protected areas in the Amazon that buffers against potential climate-tipping points and protects the drier ecosystems of the basin.

What is a government protected area in the Amazon? ›

The Amazon Region Protected Areas Program (ARPA; Portuguese: Programa Áreas Protegidas da Amazônia) is a joint initiative sponsored by government and non-government agencies to expand protection of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil.

What parts of the Amazon are unexplored? ›

And the craziest thing is, there are people there! We are talking about the Amazon Rainforest in Brazil – specifically an area known as Vale do Javari – and it is the number one most unexplored place in the world.

Can you sleep in the Amazon? ›

Sleeping in huts inside the Amazon

The lodges are the most frequent accommodations of the Amazonian forest. These are huts whose facilities are integrated into the environment and respect the natural habitat of the animals that live in the area seeking to minimize the environmental impact.

How do people stay safe in the Amazon? ›

If you can try to avoid keeping your valuables in your backpack, too.
  1. Keep valuables safe. It's best to keep cash and important documents, such as your ID and/or passport, in a zipped location that is always in your sight. ...
  2. Be aware of distractions. ...
  3. Take a “safe taxi”
21 Aug 2015

Why is the Amazon protected? ›

Local people rely on Amazonian forests for daily needs such as food, water, fiber, and traditional medicine. Modern medicine also depends on forest resources, as many treatments and vaccines are derived from wild flora.

How are rainforests protected? ›

Proper land demarcations, tougher fines for human encroachments, regulating deforestation for industries – such as tea and coffee plantations – and preventing species trafficking will further support protection of the remaining natural rainforests and its critically endangered and endemic biodiversity.

How should I dress for the Amazon? ›

What To Wear Summary List
  1. Wide-brimmed hat.
  2. Polarised Sunglasses.
  3. Long Sleeved Shirt (cotton / quick-dry)
  4. Long Sleeved Pants.
  5. Shoes that Cover the Ankle.
  6. Sandals (relaxing back at lodge / cruise boat)
  7. Warm Clothes for Nights.
  8. Waterproof Poncho.

Does it get cold in the Amazon at night? ›

Average highs and lows range from 62º F at night up to around 93º F during the day. The lowland sections of the Peruvian Amazon can receive approximately two meters of rain annually and have temperatures ranging between 79º F at night to 90ºF during the day.

Do people vacation in the Amazon? ›

The two most popular ways to explore the Amazon rainforest are by staying in a jungle lodge or taking a cruise along the Amazon River. These options are available in Brazil, Peru and Ecuador.

Why do people not stay at Amazon? ›

One frequently cited reason for the high rate of departures is Amazon's unusual compensation structure. Unlike other tech companies, Amazon caps salaries at around $160,000 for its white-collar workers, then adds stock grants that gradually vest in steadily increasing chunks over a period of four years.

Can I trust on Amazon? ›

Is Amazon reliable? Amazon is very reliable at delivering orders. If you live in the U.S., you will typically receive your goods within 1 to 7 business days (depending on shipping speeds).

What is the biggest danger to Amazon? ›

Threats to the Amazon
  • Unchecked Agricultural Expansion. Uncurbed expansion of ranching and unsustainable farming practices clear forests and leaves areas more prone to fires that can quickly become uncontrolled.
  • Illegal and Unmitigated Gold Mining. ...
  • Illegal Logging.

What is Amazon being accused of? ›

California's Attorney General filed suit against Amazon in September 2022, following the investigation that began in 2020, alleging that its contracts with third-party sellers and wholesalers inflate prices and stifle competition.

How many protected areas are there in the Amazon? ›

Over three thousand indigenous territories have been identified within the Amazon Biome. These areas represent 35% of the Amazon region2.

Why is the Amazon being cut down? ›

The primary driver of deforestation in the Amazon is demand for agricultural land, mostly for cattle ranching and soy production, according to Erin Sills, Edwin F. Conger professor of forest economics and head of the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources at NC State.

Should we protect the rainforest? ›

The preservation of our rainforests is the best, most cost-effective defense we have against the loss of biodiversity and the current climate crisis. When these tropical forests experience rapid deforestation, harmful greenhouse gases are released back into the atmosphere.

How can we save and protect the rainforest? ›

10 Things You Can Do to Save the Rainforest
  1. Eliminate Deforestation From Your Diet. ...
  2. Buy Responsibly Sourced Products. ...
  3. Choose Products That Give Back. ...
  4. Support Indigenous Communities. ...
  5. Reduce Your Carbon Footprint. ...
  6. Email Your Preferred News Outlet. ...
  7. Inform Yourself and Others. ...
  8. Get Political.

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