Brazil: It’s all about the Cows

Green activists say that country’s determination to double its share
of the world beef market is likely to undermine its new targets for
halting Amazon rainforest destruction and reducing carbon emissions.
The South American country has the world’s largest cattle herd and is
already the biggest beef exporter on the planet. Now the Brazilian
government is seeking to boost its share of the world beef market from
30 per cent to 60 per cent in the next decade.

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Most of this growth will come in Amazonia, on pastureland created by
cutting down rainforest, according to a report released today by
Greenpeace. The cattle industry will be the main driver of
deforestation, it argues. And deforestation will mean, the environment
group says, that Brazil will not be able to curb its massive carbon
dioxide emissions – 75 per cent of them coming from deforestation. It
is already the planet’s fourth-biggest greenhouse gas emitter after
China, the United States and Indonesia. This is despite the fact that
in December last year the Brazilian government introduced targets for
reducing deforestation by 72 per cent by 2017, as a part of a national
climate-change action plan. Although it has long been known that
cattle ranching, which has been expanding continuously since the early
1970s, has been a principaldriver of rainforest destruction in Brazil,
the Greenpeace study, entitled “Amazon Cattle Footprint”, is thought
to be the first detailed assessment of the scale of its impact. The
report uses innovative satellite-mapping techniques to expose direct
links between new cattle farms and forest destruction in one of the
largest Amazon states, Mato Grosso.

One map, for example, reveals the
location of industrial-sized slaughterhouses within the state, and
shows how they have become the epicentres of major forest destruction
as land is cleared to make way for pasture. Between 1996 and 2006, the
report says, the area of pastures in the Amazon grew by approximately
10 million hectares – an area the size of Portugal – to accommodate a
vast expansion of the Brazilian cattle herd, which now numbers about
65 million animals. Between 2002 and 2006, 14.5 million of the total
of 20.5 million animals added to the herd were in the Amazon, which
now holds about 40 per cent of the national herd, the report says. It
adds that according to Brazilian government data, in 2006 there were
three head of cattle in the Amazon for every human inhabitant. Just
under 80 per cent of the deforested Amazon is now used for cattle
grazing. “The Brazilian government needs to get a grip on the cattle
industry before it completely undermines the country’s chances of
tackling climate change,” said Sarah Shoraka, Greenpeace’s forests
campaigner. “Right now, huge swathes of rainforest are being cut down
to feed the global appetite for beef and leather. As these new maps
show, there’s a clear link between the location of new cattle ranches
and the destruction of the Amazon rainforest.

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Comments (1)

peacefromtreesJanuary 31st, 2009 at 11:35 am

Belem, Brazil, January 29, 2009 “ A series of maps, released today at the World Social Forum in the Greenpeace report Amazon Cattle Footprint: Mato Grosso: State of Destruction (1), expose the direct links between cattle ranching and deforestation in the state of Mato Grosso, the area of the Amazon with the highest rate of deforestation (2).

Cattle ranching is the primary driver of forest destruction in the Brazilian Amazon, with 79.5% of deforested land used for cattle pasture. (3)

Using specialised techniques to analyse and compare satellite images and data showing the growth of infrastructure, such as roads and agribusiness (4), the maps clearly illustrate how much former rainforest is now used for cattle pastures in Mato Grosso.

From 1996 to 2006, ten million hectares – an area about the size of Iceland – was cleared for cattle ranching. Brazil today has the largest commercial cattle herd in the world and is the world’s biggest beef exporter. The Brazilian government plans to double its share of the beef export market to 60% by 2018. (5)

“The Brazilian government’s subsidies to the cattle industry and farmers contradict its promises to tackle deforestation as part of its climate commitments (6),” said Andre Muggiati, Greenpeace Brazil Amazon campaigner. “With deforestation responsible for an unbelievable 75% of Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions, it is time for the government to get serious and halt deforestation in the Amazon. This means stopping any further expansion of the cattle industry now.”


(2) Mato Grosso has the highest average deforestation rates since 1988. Brazilian Ministry of Science and Technology – MCT (2006) Primerio Inventario Brasileiro de Emissoes Antropicas de Gases de Efeito Estufa.


(4) Greenpeace analysed images released from the Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (Modis) satellite of the region over the course of a year, and compared them with IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) data showing the growth of agribusiness and infrastructure in the area. It is the first time these data have been compared in this way.

(5) Rocha, A. 2008. Brazil to Dominate Global Trade of Beef, Chicken, Sugar and Soy. Brazzil Magazine, 2nd November 2008.

(6) In December 2008, Brazil publicly announced targets to reduce deforestation as a part of national Climate Change action plan.

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