USA, Madison. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and Vrije University Amsterdam found that over a five-year period, millions of cattle slaughtered for beef spent at least part of their lives grazing in protected areas of the Brazilian Amazon, including on indigenous lands.
The research team published its study results in the journal Conservation Letters, titled “Protected areas still used to produce Brazil’s cattle”. The scientists found that many slaughterhouses in Brazil — the world’s top beef exporter — continue to purchase illegally pastured animals on a large scale.
According to a UW–Madison press release, the team analysed data on the transportation of cattle given by ranchers and slaughterhouses and coupled it with property records to identify where cattle have grazed, including if they grazed inside protected areas.
“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,” said Holly Gibbs, a UW–Madison professor of geography and senior author of the study. “That meatpackers are continuing to buy from properties in areas that are under strict protection is alarming.”
Protected areas in the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso, Pará and Rondônia form a crescent around the southern and eastern portions of the Amazon basin — a region where the expansion of agriculture is fueling deforestation and biodiversity loss at an accelerating pace, the scientists stated. Historically, cattle ranching has been linked to about 80% of deforestation in the Amazon basin.
The researchers found that between 2013 and 2018, more than 1 million cattle were sold directly from protected areas within the three states to slaughterhouses, despite meatpackers’ commitments to avoid such purchases.
Another 2.2 million were indirectly linked to protected areas, meaning the animals spent a portion of their lives in protected zones before meatpackers purchased them. Often these cattle grazed in protected areas and then were transported to fattening farms outside of those areas before the meatpackers purchased them.
While a majority of these cattle were tied to “sustainable-use” areas where ranching is sometimes permitted under certain conditions, more than a quarter, or around 900,000, were tied to regions that are strictly protected, including indigenous lands.
As the researchers explain, the analysis of the available data on cattle movements ended in 2018 because it depended on Brazil’s previously transparent public recordkeeping. “At the start of 2019, this critical information became less available,” Gibbs said and added that while the state of Pará continues to make cattle movement data within its borders publicly available, a more holistic accounting of illegal cattle grazing in the Amazon basin will remain elusive as long as Brazil’s federal government keeps a lid on the nationwide data.
Lisa Rausch, a co-author of the paper and scientist at UW–Madison’s Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, pointed out that the rollback in transparency hampers efforts by slaughterhouses to monitor their indirect suppliers.
“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,” said Rausch.
Similarly, public audits of slaughterhouse compliance that go beyond the state of Pará, currently the only state with audits, could help distinguish between companies trying to improve and those that are not, according to Rausch.
“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,” she said.
Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison