Shady slaugh­ter­houses, ‘cow laun­der­ing’ drive spike in Ama­zon

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

BOCA DO ACRE, Brazil:

At the Frigo Ama­zonas slaugh­ter house in­side the world’s largest rain­for­est, the owner doesn’t mince his words - much of the cat­tle pro­cessed here comes from il­le­gally de­for­ested land. “It’s im­pos­si­ble to buy cows from land that isn’t de­for­ested,” Felipe Oliveira told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion in his tatty of­fice at the abat­toir in Brazil’s Ama­zonas State.

“Ev­ery­one here de­for­ests... if they don’t, it’s im­pos­si­ble for a fam­ily to live,” the slaugh­ter­house boss said, sit­ting be­neath ex­posed elec­tri­cal wires hang­ing from the ceil­ing. If the Ama­zon for­est, de­scribed as the lungs of the planet for its role suck­ing cli­mate-chang­ing car­bon diox­ide out of the at­mos­phere, is to be saved, then ad­dress­ing the im­pact of live­stock is the most press­ing pri­or­ity, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists say.

De­for­esta­tion rises

The clear­ance of land for cat­tle pas­ture is re­spon­si­ble for 80 per­cent of the for­est de­struc­tion in the Ama­zon, ac­cord­ing to data from Yale Uni­ver­sity. The rate of de­for­esta­tion in the Ama­zon in­creased by 29 per­cent last year, ac­cord­ing to gov­ern­ment fig­ures. Larger ranch­ers, truck­ers and traders have set up elab­o­rate schemes to “laun­der” cat­tle raised on il­le­gally de­for­ested land on the le­git­i­mate mar­ket, said an­a­lysts and of­fi­cials.

Brazil­ian au­thor­i­ties also link il­le­gal de­for­esta­tion to other crimes in the Ama­zon, such as forced labour on farms or “gri­lagem” - land grabs - by ranch­ers who fraud­u­lently reg­is­ter prop­er­ties oc­cu­pied by small farm­ers to pro­duce cat­tle. Pow­er­ful ru­ral busi­ness­men of­ten bribe gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials or land registry agents known as “car­to­rios” to ob­tain prop­erty ti­tle deeds, ac­cord­ing to Brazil­ian pros­e­cu­tors. Th­ese il­le­gally reg­is­tered plots are of­ten hot­beds of de­for­esta­tion. As the world’s largest ex­porter of beef and chicken, the im­por­tance of Brazil’s strug­gle to con­tain il­le­gal de­for­esta­tion for live­stock ex­tends far be­yond ru­ral Ama­zo­nian set­tle­ments.

Bovine bat­tles

In Boca do Acre, a poor mu­nic­i­pal­ity of wooden stilted homes with 28,000 res­i­dents, the cat­tle in­dus­try ac­counts for more than 70 per­cent of the econ­omy, of­fi­cials said. It’s a re­al­ity repli­cated in towns through­out the Ama­zon rain­for­est, of­ten mak­ing it dif­fi­cult for of­fi­cials to take a hard line en­forc­ing laws on de­for­esta­tion. “It’s im­pos­si­ble for this city to live with­out cat­tle,” Josi­mar Fidelquino, a lo­cal gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial re­spon­si­ble for en­vi­ron­men­tal mon­i­tor­ing told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion. The mu­nic­i­pal­ity is the largest cat­tle pro­ducer in Ama­zonas, Brazil’s big­gest state, of­fi­cials said.

The Frigo Ama­zonas slaugh­ter­house em­ploys more than 100 staff. In muddy rub­ber boots, ripped jeans and cow­boy hats, they ar­rive at the plant in open-air trucks to process 1,200 head of cat­tle per month. The slaugh­ter­house pro­duces meat ex­clu­sively for the lo­cal mar­ket in Ama­zonas State.

“We know il­le­gal cows are be­ing killed by peo­ple in town,” said Fidelquino, adding that au­thor­i­ties are work­ing on schemes to al­low more cat­tle to be raised on smaller chunks of land. Typ­i­cally, farm­ers sim­ply cut down trees on a plot and al­low cat­tle to graze freely, eat­ing plants grow­ing on the scrub land. The same num­ber of cows could be pro­duced on far smaller plots with sup­plies of hay or other feed, of­fi­cials said.

The pres­i­dent of the Boca do Acre Ranch­ers Union, Paulo Castillo, re­fused in­ter­view re­quests about slaugh­ter­houses and their ad­her­ence to de­for­esta­tion or land reg­is­tra­tion rules. Un­der Brazil­ian law, Ama­zon land own­ers must main­tain 80 per­cent of the for­est cover on their prop­er­ties. Some lo­cal farm­ers and slaugh­ter­house own­ers say that ex­pec­ta­tion is un­re­al­is­tic; en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists say it’s es­sen­tial.

Re­gard­less, laws on for­est preser­va­tion and land gov­er­nance are not well en­forced in re­mote jun­gle re­gions, an­a­lysts said. “The Ama­zon is like the ‘Wild West’ was in Amer­ica,” said Jose Pup­pim de Oliveira, a pro­fes­sor at Brazil’s Ge­tulio Var­gas Foun­da­tion uni­ver­sity, who stud­ies land pol­i­tics. “For­est land is con­sid­ered un­pro­duc­tive, as are the peo­ple liv­ing there,” he told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion.

‘Con­stant prob­lem’

While small slaugh­ter­houses like Frigo Ama­zonas pro­duc­ing for the lo­cal mar­ket are known to flout en­vi­ron­men­tal laws, they ac­count for a com­par­a­tively small part of Ama­zon de­for­esta­tion, said Uni­ver­sity of Wis­con­sin pro­fes­sor Holly Gibbs. About 90 per­cent of Brazil’s cat­tle is pro­cessed in slaugh­ter­houses that can ex­port na­tion­ally or in­ter­na­tion­ally, Gibbs said, and they are a driver of de­for­esta­tion.

Large cat­tle com­pa­nies say they are tak­ing the prob­lem se­ri­ously by im­prov­ing their mon­i­tor­ing of sup­pli­ers and work­ing with the gov­ern­ment and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists to try to keep cat­tle pro­duced on il­le­gally cleared land out of their sup­ply chains. Brazil-based JBS (JBSS3.SA), the world’s largest meat­packer, has pledged not to buy cat­tle from de­for­ested land in the Ama­zon, said an of­fi­cial at the com­pany which is in the midst of a sep­a­rate po­lit­i­cal cor­rup­tion scan­dal. “Build­ing a sup­ply chain free from de­for­esta­tion is a con­stant chal­lenge for the en­tire in­dus­try,” a JBS of­fi­cial told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion in an email. The com­pany has been suc­cess­ful in stop­ping its direct sup­pli­ers from de­for­est­ing land, the of­fi­cial said, but mon­i­tor­ing in­di­rect sup­pli­ers re­mains a “ma­jor chal­lenge”.

Fol­low­ing the cows

Brazil­ian cows are sup­posed to have two track­ing num­bers so their ori­gins can be traced by au­thor­i­ties. The first is a health reg­is­tra­tion doc­u­ment known as a GTA which shows cat­tle have re­ceived the right vac­ci­na­tions along with in­for­ma­tion about the an­i­mal’s trans­porta­tion his­tory. The sec­ond is cer­ti­fi­ca­tion from Brazil’s en­vi­ron­ment min­istry known as a CAR show­ing that they were raised on legally reg­is­tered land ad­her­ing to for­est pro­tec­tion rules.

GTA doc­u­ments could be the “holy grail for end­ing de­for­esta­tion”, said Gibbs, by act­ing as a pass­port for cat­tle. They could al­low cat­tle to be tracked from birth un­til death and as they move be­tween farms to trace le­gal­ity. But the in­for­ma­tion is not pub­licly avail­able.

Com­pa­nies agree. JBS wants au­thor­i­ties to launch a new “Green GTA” to al­low for bet­ter track­ing of the ori­gins of cat­tle. Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials in Boca do Acre said they had no in­for­ma­tion about pos­si­ble im­prove­ments to the GTA sys­tem. With­out clear track­ing data, ranch­ers can move cat­tle from il­le­gal land to legally reg­is­tered prop­er­ties just be­fore sell­ing them to slaugh­ter­houses, Gibbs said.

The bor­der post in Ama­zonas State, where cat­tle doc­u­ments are sup­posed to be in­spected be­fore bovines travel into neigh­bor­ing Ron­do­nia State, has been shut­tered for months, said a cook who works at locked, dusty build­ing. The lack of checks makes it harder for com­pa­nies to mon­i­tor their sup­ply chains. Back at Friggo Ama­zonas, slaugh­ter­house boss Oliveira says more pa­per­work un­der an ex­panded GTA sys­tem would make life even more dif­fi­cult for small farm­ers. “Most of the small farm­ers here don’t have ti­tles or land reg­is­tra­tion,” Oliveira said. “How could they get th­ese papers? Some can’t even sign their names.” —Reuters

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