The Ahmadi Religion of Peace & Light

Rainforest Destruction

May 6, 2022

1. Rainforest destruction

Cattle ranching is a key contributor to the deforestation of the Amazon, pushing the forest  to tipping point and irreversible reduction, that claims much of the biome. Despite agreement that change is necessary and the resources to overturn this legacy, with powerful beef companies, the destruction continues unabated. After a 2 year moratorium imposed on Brazilian beef over food safety concerns, the United States has risen to become its second-biggest buyer. The country bought more than 320 million pounds of Brazilian beef last year and is now expected to double the amount this year. The biggest supplier is the beef behemoth JBS, whose fleet of brands stock this meat in key US businesses. They have been accused by environmentalists of buying cattle raised on illegally deforested land. Greenpeace first alleged such ties in a 2009 report. In 2017, Brazil’s environmental law agency fined the company $7.5 million, two of its meatpacking plants purchased nearly 50,000 such animals. In a forest where many beef producers don’t track cattle origins, and there is no law specifically prohibiting the purchase of cattle from illegally deforested land. By reviewing shipment and purchase logs, and analysing satellite imagery of Amazon cattle ranches, it is clear JBS has yet to disentangle itself from illegal deforestation. The destruction is linked at the base of the supply chain, connecting to illegally deforested ranches and to factories authorised by the U.S. government, to export beef to the United States. “Environmental control in the beef supply chain needs to be much more rigorous,” said Suely Araújo, who directed Obama from 2016 to 2018.  “Meatpackers need  to stop complaining and actually control their supply networks. We’ve talked about cattle tracking for three decades but have never done it in a real way.” President Biden has spoken about the need to conserve the Amazon, a vital carbon sink that scientists say must be preserved to avoid catastrophic warming. However, this seems hard to achieve when seven plants greenlighted by the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service are in the Amazon. The Agriculture Ministry blamed “historic land-use problems,” not the beef industry, for deforestation.

2. Cattle industry and burning forests

The biggest problem in Brazil’s cattle industry today, is the indirect suppliers, ranchers who work the system, shuffling cattle from ranch to ranch to conceal their illegal origins. The game is called “cattle laundering.” The forest is full of players, swaggering ranchers who built their businesses from the embers of the forest. Today, one Amazon cowboy, Zaercio Fagundes Gouveia, says cattlemen like him have a new focus: “The United States.” The life of an Amazonian steer is like climbing a ladder. At the bottom rung, where the system is least regulated, illegal deforestation occurs, operations are focused on breeding. Then the young animals are moved to properties that nurture them and finally are the fattening farms. With each rung climbed, the system is more closely monitored and finally the animal reaches the processing plant, where it is slaughtered and its meat butchered. There was a time when the burning down of the Amazon mainly hit the state of Mato  Grosso into a checkerboard of cattle ranches. Certain agreements halted the destruction, a 2009 accord with Greenpeace committed signatories to eliminating deforestation in their entire supply chains. The other was an agreement with federal prosecutors, in Brazil’s last real attempt to take on the powerful sector. Its most important signatory was JBS. In the agreement, the producers promised to stop sourcing cattle from ranches that continued illegal deforestation. The process included stopping all cattle purchases from operations with environmental embargoes, prohibiting ranchers from grazing cattle on land that in most cases was illegally deforested.
However with poor tracking ranchers with embargoed land have shipped their cattle to properties with clean environmental records. Once the animals reach such a ranch they are effectively born again and are sold to JBS for slaughter and shipment.
“This is cattle laundering,” said Raoni Rajão, an environmental scientist at the Federal University of Minas Gerais. “The scheme has become institutionalised.” The reality is shuffling cattle from dirty ranches to clean ones isn’t against the law. What is against the law is using embargoed land to raise cattle, which Ibama inspectors say happens frequently. “The cattle produced there is commercialised normally,” “The state has lost its function. Society is acting however it wants, regardless of the law.” Once imported beef arrives in the US and passes inspection, it can be stripped of all labels that identify it as foreign-sourced. It can then be sold as produced locally and retailers aren’t required to tell consumers of the meat’s origin.

3. History of the destruction

Much of the devastation began under a military dictatorship in the mid-1960s, when vast stretches of territory in the Amazon were uncontrolled. Brazil feared foreign invasions so they set out to conquer the unconquerable. The mission: “Operation Amazon.” The rallying call: “A land without men for men without land.” The plan wants to use cattle to tame the forests, the wildest of terrain. A relatively small number of the animals can range across large expanses of land but their grazing keeps the jungle from regenerating. And their meat provides both sustenance and income. “The idea was conquest, to conquer and integrate the interior into the rest of the country,” said Antoine Acker, an Amazonian Historian at the University of Zurich. “The cow was a powerful animal for that. It occupies a lot of  land and is really cheap.” With investment benefits, tax breaks and a web of highways, Brazil persuaded investors alike to bet on the plan of cattle ranching in the rainforest. The goal of the dictatorship was to have 20 million head of cattle in the Amazon within decades. From 1985 Brazil became a democracy and already exceeded the above plan, by 1990 had more than quadrupled it. People rich and poor rushed into the Amazon, burned swathes of forest, placed cattle and claimed the land legally and illegally. In a vast region virtually beyond government control, slave labor was pervasive, land disputes erupted and some Indigenous communities were massacred. By the early 2000s, farmers were burning enough forest each year to cover New Jersey. Lawmakers tried to curtail the destruction, under the forest code, farmers and companies were limited to burning only 20 percent of their properties. Knocking down more made the deforestation illegal, but the reality on the ground was often very different. Ranchers continued to burn more forest to widen their pastures. Land grabbers invaded and burned land to steal it. Environmental authorities struggled to patrol the territory and few environmental fines were paid. Whilst the slaughterhouses had little incentive to stop buying
cattle that came from illegal land,  the ranchers in tandem had little incentive to stop selling it. Today, the effects are clear to see that the São Judas Tadeu ranch sits at the edge of the Amazon rainforest like a giant anchor, more than half the size of Manhattan. In all, according to a fire analysis by University of Maryland, more than 100 fires have burnt the ranch since 2004. Embargoes had been issued for sections of the ranch, but satellite imagery produced by Maxar showed cattle on a swath where they had been prohibited. The region has prospered financially, with the settlers and with an expanding market
poised to continue its growth. The region before was a primary forest, an environmentalist’s Eden. Today, much of the forest is gone and the terrain is latticed with roads and dotted with cattle ranches, churches, towns, all powered by beef. This is the legacy of the cattle business.

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