Zero Deforestation Cattle
Tropical forests provide a wide range of valuable ecosystem services that deliver benefits, such as regulation of local, regional, and global climate. The large-scale loss of forests jeopardizes these critical services, and can negatively impact people and wildlife far beyond the Amazon.
The Amazon biome, covering almost half of the entire Brazilian territory, is an iconic landscape, with priceless human, wildlife, carbon and water storage, and cultural values for Brazil and the whole planet. It also supports millions of people who rely on this region to sustain their livelihoods.
Cattle ranching occurs on over two-thirds of deforested land in the Brazilian Amazon1,2 and has been a default land use for rural properties for many decades, as part of a complex process that includes land occupation, speculation, and cultural tradition. Over the past several decades, this region has undergone a shift from a relatively loose arrangement of disorganized agricultural producers towards more commercially integrated and export-driven production systems.
From 1993 to 2013, the cattle herd in the Brazilian Amazon biome expanded by nearly 200%, while the herd in the rest of Brazil increased by only 13%.3 In 2013, nearly 60 million cattle occupied the Brazilian Amazon biome.4 The large-scale expansion of the cattle herd into the Brazilian Amazon has come at great environmental cost, as large expanses of tropical forests have been cut, burned, and converted to pastures. During this period, over 300,000 km2 of forest (an area about the size of Italy) was cleared in the Brazilian Amazon.5
Large scale deforestation and expansion of agriculture in the Brazilian Amazon may be a "no-win" scenario for the region as climate feedbacks are likely, to (1) reduce the quantity and frequency of rainfall6 (2) increase average temperatures and heat extremes,7 and (3) increase the length of dry seasons and the severity of droughts.8 Under a business as usual scenario, climate feedbacks associated with continued forest destruction could potentially reduce pasture productivity in the Brazilian Amazon by 33% by 2050.9 This could have major implications for food security and raw material sourcing, as large-scale productivity losses may result in supply shocks in the market and increase the price volatility of cattle products.
Legal compliance has typically been poor in the cattle sector, and efforts aimed at reforming land-use practices have largely been ineffective. However, this trend has changed significantly in recent years. A combination of supply chain interventions, including commitments to zero deforestation production, and government policies have helped reduce the rates of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon by over 80% in the past decade.10 Continued support from responsible companies throughout the supply chain is providing critical support for a range of solutions that are helping sever the links between cattle and forest destruction in the Amazon once and for all.
Supply chain initiatives are supporting effective solutions to verified zero deforestation beef, leather, and tallow production in the Brazilian Amazon.
With the largest commercial cattle herd in the world, Brazil is currently at the forefront of both global production and international trade. The expansion of the cattle herd in the Amazon biome played a key role in meeting the growing demand, both within Brazil and internationally, for beef, leather, and tallow.
Despite its position as a global leader in exports, the majority of beef produced in Brazil (about 80%) is consumed domestically.24 Large multi-national retailers, including three of the world’s largest (Walmart, Carrefour, and Pão de Açúcar/ Casino Group) and global brands, such as Colgate-Palmolive, Unilever, Mars, and Nestle, play a prominent role in the domestic market.
In 2014, the top Brazilian export markets for beef were China (including Hong Kong), Russia, and the European Union, which collectively accounted for over half of all exports (by value).25 While China and Russia tend to dominate overall trade, the United States and the United Kingdom are (by far) the largest export destinations for processed beef products, accounting for 35% and 25% of total processed beef exports in 2014, respectively.26
The primary export destinations for Brazilian hides and leather (by value) are China and Italy.27 As top global leather processors, these nations export the majority of finished leather goods to the United States and the European Union,28 highlighting the importance of market integration in leather supply chains.
Tallow has a wide range of applications, including pet food, pharmaceuticals, and personal care products, such as soaps. In Brazil, tallow is also used in the production of biodiesel, which typically consists of a feedstock ratio of about 20% tallow. As fuel blend mandates continue to increase the proportions of biodiesel, tallow is likely to become an increasingly important feedstock for the energy and transportation sectors, both within Brazil and internationally.
Global commodity markets for beef, leather, and tallow products are dynamic. As the Brazilian cattle sector seeks to expand market coverage and establish new trade partners in both developed and emerging economies, commodity flows will shift to meet market demands. Consumption preferences in end-user countries and sourcing criteria of multi-national brands can send strong market signals that resonate throughout the value chain.
In the past several years, there has been a tremendous surge in corporate zero deforestation commitments (see further reading on Surge in Zero Deforestation Commitments), and an increasing number of these have a cross-commodity scope, which cover cattle products. Continued support for verified zero deforestation beef, leather, and tallow can foster wide ranging, lasting, solution-oriented transformation of the market for Brazilian cattle products.
The majority (about 80%) of beef produced in Brazil is consumed by the domestic market. According to OECD-FAO 2014, Brazil is one of the leading beef consuming nations in the world, averaging about 25 kg of beef per capita per year, over three times the world average (6.5 kg/capita/year). Large multi-national retailers and global food and pet-food brands play a prominent role in the domestic market for beef products in Brazil.SEE INTERNATIONAL →
Walker et al. 2013, estimates that about 26% of Brazilian leather and hides are consumed by the domestic market. Although the majority of production is exported, Brazil has significant processing and manufacturing sectors for leather-based products, such as automotive and aviation (upholstery), as well as footwear and apparel.SEE INTERNATIONAL →
The overwhelming majority (about 99%) of tallow produced in Brazil is consumed by the domestic market, primarily for biodiesel. Based on estimates from FAO STAT and the Global Agricultural Network (GAIN), about 90% of all Brazilian tallow is used for biodiesel production. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), Brazil is the fourth largest producer of biodiesel in the world.SEE INTERNATIONAL →
Pressure from international retailers and brands, environmental groups, and the federal government, led major meatpackers in Brazil to make public commitments to stop directly sourcing cattle from ranches with deforestation and illegal activity.
During the past decade, significant strides have been made towards reducing cattle-driven deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon. In 2009, high profile campaigns by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and pressure from the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Offices (Ministério Público Federal, or MPF) in Pará, led to two important supply chain interventions: (1) the MPF-TAC Agreement, and (2) the G4 Cattle Agreement.44
(1) MPF-TAC Agreement: The MPFs sued large ranchers who cleared forest illegally and the slaughterhouses that bought from them, and used threats of litigation to convince Brazilian retailers to boycott slaughterhouses connected to illegal deforestation. In response, individual meatpacking companies began signing legally binding TAC agreements with the MPF (Terms of Adjustment of Conduct) in July 2009. Such agreements forestall prosecution in return for the meatpackers’ commitments to avoid purchases from properties with illegal deforestation, and are now in place for two-thirds of the federally inspected slaughterhouses (SIFs) in the Legal Amazon (Gibbs et al. 2015).45
(2) Zero Deforestation/G4 Cattle Agreement In October 2009, Brazil’s largest meatpacking companies (JBS, Marfrig, Minerva, and Bertin—the latter
one was subsequently purchased by JBS) also signed a zero deforestation agreement with Greenpeace, known as the G4 or Zero Deforestation Cattle Agreement. Under the agreement, these meatpackers committed to set up monitoring systems to block the purchase of cattle from ranches with deforestation and illegal activities. The G4 meatpackers collectively account for around half of the documented slaughter in the Legal Amazon, so this commitment has a wide reach (Gibbs et al. 2015).46
The two agreements share many similarities. Under both, meatpacking companies committed to block sales from properties with deforestation occurring after the agreements, or that were not registered in the Rural Environmental Registry (CAR), a Brazilian system for storing georeferenced property boundaries for monitoring purposes.
The MPF-TAC agreements emphasize avoiding illegal deforestation, as defined by the Brazilian Forest Code, which stipulates minimum reserve areas on properties that must remain forested. The G4 Agreement goes beyond legality and prohibits any forest clearing, even if it is within the legal limit.
A study of the Cattle Agreements by Gibbs et al. 2015 shows that JBS, the largest beef processor in the world, has made substantial changes to its procurement criteria, effectively blocking purchases from direct supplying ranches in southern Pará that had recent deforestation and illegal activities.
Supply chain interventions, such as the Cattle Agreements, offer a promising solution to commodity-driven deforestation. As multi-national companies continue to make commitments to stop sourcing from farms and ranches with recent deforestation, these types of initiatives are growing increasingly more powerful as pragmatic solutions to commodity-driven deforestation. The scope, terms, and implementation of these initiatives are critical to ensure effective safeguards for forests and the environment both within Brazil and elsewhere in the tropics.
An analysis by Gibbs et al. 2015 of the Cattle Agreements demonstrates that they significantly and rapidly changed meatpacker and rancher behavior in the state of Pará. Rancher surveys, and rigorous property-level and statistical analyses were combined to demonstrate the following:
The integration of forest governance policies and supply chain initiatives offers unprecedented levels of transparency, enabling detailed understanding of both the patterns of property-level forest cover loss and transaction information throughout the supply chain.
Despite these important changes in the cattle sector, potential leakage and loopholes reduce the overall impacts for forest conservation. There are still major challenges that need to be addressed in order to ensure fully verifiable zero deforestation supply chains for cattle products from the Brazilian Amazon (Gibbs et al. 2015).
The following maps show forest cover loss and the change in a sample of supplying properties to JBS slaughterhouses in Pará before the Zero Deforestation Agreements (prior to 2009) and after the Agreements (2010 to 2013).
Preventing deforestation is compatible with the growth of the cattle sector in Brazil. Improvements to pasture and herd management could allow substantial increases in the Amazon cattle herd on existing pasture. This can be achieved while improving the profitability of the ranching sector and safeguarding the ecological values of the Amazon.
The property-level analysis by Gibbs et al. 2015 on the effectiveness of the cattle agreements, as they apply to JBS slaughterhouses in Pará, demonstrates that they have altered their procurement criteria and now monitor their suppliers. Tens of thousands of properties are effectively monitored now, an enormous achievement of the cattle sector.
Despite this progress, major challenges still remain to ensuring fully verified zero deforestation cattle production. The G4 Agreement only extends to three meatpacking companies, which leaves about half of the documented slaughter in the Brazilian Amazon exposed to relatively minimal (if any) monitoring for deforestation and illegal activities. In addition, direct suppliers are the only segment of the supply chain that is current covered by these monitoring efforts. Cattle can move from calving ranches and fattening farms through middlemen and other indirect suppliers without being monitored. Preliminary evidence indicates that the majority of deforestation is now likely occurring on these indirect supplying ranches.
In addition, there are currently no unified and robust audits to check the criteria of the commitments. To ensure compliance with the agreements, a uniform, independent auditing system is needed. The results of these audits should be publicly available so that all stakeholders in the supply chain can make informed decisions about the performance of this sector.
There are several ways that retailers, manufacturers, and other supply chain actors (including individuals and families) can help ensure environmentally sound, socially responsible, and economically viable cattle ranching in the Brazilian Amazon.
To build collaborative solutions and scale up verified zero deforestation cattle production, supply chain actors should participate in the GRSB-GTPS Joint Working Group on Forests (JWG). The JWG is a technical working group of the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef (GRSB) and the Brazilian Roundtable on Sustainable Livestock (GTPS), focused on engagement and collaboration to address forest-related issues in cattle supply chains.
This website was developed as a collaborative project between the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and the Gibbs Land Use and Environment Lab (GLUE). The site aims to showcase how supply chain initiatives are supporting effective solutions for verified zero deforestation beef, leather, and tallow production in the Brazilian Amazon. The site also highlights ways for supply chain actors to support continuous improvement and ensure that cattle products sourced from this region do not contribute to the loss of tropical forests. This website is intended to be a resource for procurement and sustainability professionals, and will continue to evolve as new research, data, and analysis becomes available.
For questions or comments, please contact: ZeroDeforestation@nwf.org
The National Wildlife Federation is the oldest and largest wildlife conservation and education organization in the United States, with nearly 6 million members and supporters and 49 state and territorial affiliates. The international division of NWF (International Wildlife Conservation), develops strategies to reduce the environmental impacts associated with large-scale agriculture, to help ensure that commodity production can meet the world’s needs without destroying forests or jeopardizing wildlife habitat.
The Gibbs Land Use and Environment Lab (GLUE) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is an academic research group dedicated to studying human-environment interactions. The researchers use maps, remote sensing, modeling, and commodity supply chain analysis combined with stakeholder interviews to understand how and why humans use land around the world. They are especially engaged in understanding the potential of emerging market-based solutions to reduce tropical deforestation, and work closely with policymakers, business leaders and non-governmental organizations.