Cattle Industry Giants Agree to Protect the Amazon and the Climate

A Greenpeace activist urges the President of Brazil to attend The UN climate meeting in Copenhagen with a banner \' Lula Come to Copenhagen\'. The presence of the Heads of States of the most influential countries are needed in order \\ to secure and ambitious and legally binding agreement in Copenhagen in December. ©Greenpeace/Johanna Hanno
A Greenpeace activist urges the President of Brazil to attend The UN climate meeting in Copenhagen. The presence of the Heads of States of the most influential countries are needed in order to secure an ambitious and legally binding agreement in Copenhagen in December, and measures to stop deforestation must absolutely be part of that agreement. ©Greenpeace/Johanna Hanno

Four giants of the cattle industry have agreed to stop supporting deforestation of the Amazon — and that’s huge news for the climate in addition to forests. Now we just need Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to get on board with the zero deforestation initiative as well, and take that pledge to Copenhagen.

I haven’t been writing my weekly guest blogs lately because I’m currently in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on the Greenpeace ship Esperanza as part of a campaign to stop overfishing and establish a global network of marine reserves, but I had to take a break to write about this tremendous victory.

I’ve reported here on this blog about the role tropical deforestation plays in contributing to climate change. To briefly summarize, deforestation is responsible for nearly 20% of global carbon emissions every year — more than the entire transportation sector. In other words, tackling global climate change means stopping deforestation.

I also wrote about Greenpeace’s campaign to urge major shoe manufacturers to put their foot down and tell their Brazilian suppliers that they would no longer purchase their leather until they could guarantee it wasn’t coming from destruction of the Amazon rainforest. Cattle ranchers are responsible for 80% of deforestation in the Amazon.

The Brazilian companies supplying that shoe leather — Marfrig, Bertin, JBS-Friboi, and Minerva — are four of the biggest players in the global cattle industry. Following the release of Greenpeace’s report, “Slaughtering the Amazon,” which detailed the complex global supply chain linking these companies to goods manufacturers around the world, shoe companies like Nike, Timberland, and Adidas all took the steps necessary to make sure their demand for leather wasn’t contributing to Amazon destruction and climate change.

This put tremendous pressure on the cattle companies to take similar steps, which they have now done. At a press conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil on Monday, all four committed to measures that will ensure their cattle are not coming from newly deforested areas of the Amazon. Read the full list of measures to be taken, which include close monitoring of supply chains and clear targets for registering cattle farms, here.

Making this deal even sweeter, a victory was also won for environmental justice and human rights, as the companies also agreed to stop purchasing cattle from farms on protected indigenous lands as well as from farms using slave labor.

And before anyone posts the inevitable “eating meat is the real culprit!” comment, let me say that the monitoring systems to be put in place will include tracking meat in addition to leather and other so-called “cattle products.” In fact, large grocery store chains in Brazil responded soon after the release of our report, saying they were taking efforts to remove meat that came from Amazon deforestation from their shelves. And the Brazilian Association of Supermarkets (ABRAS), which includes Walmart and Carrefour, attended the event Monday, voicing their support for our call for zero deforestation. Our initial focus on leather was what you might call a wedge issue, of sorts. And it’s paid off rather well.

The implications of this victory for the Amazon and the climate cannot be underestimated. Marfrig, Bertin, JBS-Friboi, and Minerva operate the largest slaughterhouses in Brazil and are some of the largest cattle companies in the world. They’ve not only agreed to help end deforestation in one of the most critical rainforests in the world, but they’ve set a great example for corporate responsibility on the climate as well.

Let’s hope it also sets a precedent for President Lula, who has committed his country to an 80% decrease in deforestation by 2020, rather than committing to zero deforestation by 2015, which is when climate scientists say global carbon emissions must peak if we’re to avoid runaway climate change. Ending deforestation is one of the quickest and simplest ways we can reduce carbon emissions. We need him to set an example of protecting forests that can be used as a template in Copenhagen.

Thanks to all of you who took action on this issue, we could not have achieved this victory without you!

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