The UK’s most popular supermarkets are selling beef from a meat company associated with illegal deforestation of the Amazon despite an international outcry following recent wildfires, according to environmental investigators.
Co-Op, Iceland, Lidl, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose all stock corned beef from Brazilian company JBS which has been fined millions of dollars for buying cattle raised on deforested land.
In May, a Friends of the Earth investigation cross-linked product codes on tins in UK supermarkets with regulatory documents and supply-chain websites that traced the beef back to a JBS slaughterhouse.
These products are still stocked in all these supermarkets, the campaign group has claimed.
Danny Gross, campaigner at Friends of the Earth, told The Independent: “The world watches in horror as the Amazon burns but unfortunately a lot of us are unwitting contributors to the crisis.”
In 2017 JBS – which is the world’s largest meat-packer – was fined $7.7m (£6.2m) for buying 49,438 cattle raised on illegally deforested land between 2013 and 2016.
Brazil’s environment regulator, IBAMA, said the company had turned a blind eye to regulations meant to protect the Amazon and had knowingly bought cattle raised on deforested land for years.
According to a report by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the company is allegedly continuing to buy cows raised on illegally deforested land, although it denies this. Companies that supply JBS are believed to be responsible for the destruction of up to 32,000 hectares of forest each year, according to data from NGO Trase.
Last year the UK imported 28,550 tonnes of corned beef and 95 per cent came from Brazil, with nearly half supplied by JBS.
In the aftermath of the fires, Boris Johnson said the UK would do “everything we possibly can” to help Brazil tackle rainforest destruction.
However, asked whether he would join other leaders in opposing a trade deal between South American nations and the EU, he said: “People will take any excuse at all to interfere with free trade and to frustrate trade deals, and I don’t want to see that.”
“The UK directly imports about 30,000 tonnes of beef and beef preparations from Brazil. As far as I’m concerned this means when we eat meat, we have deforestation on our plate,” Dr Marco Springmann, senior researcher for Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food told The Independent.
“In addition to calling the Bolsonaro government to account, we must call ourselves to account,” he said.
The country’s president, Jair Bolsonaro, has spoken in favour of expanding mining and industrial farming into the Amazon and protected areas. He believes environmental laws and activist groups often work to hinder Brazil’s economic potential.
The demand for animal products is responsible for more than 80 per cent of all deforestation in Brazil and other South American countries, according to experts from Yale.
Mr Gross said: “It’s no good for Boris Johnson to shout about the importance of preserving precious ecosystems while pursuing a trade deal with Brazil which will only add fuel to the Amazon fires. We need to have environmental protection at the heart of international trading relationships.
“The scandal goes way beyond beef products, with hundreds of thousands of hectares of land in Brazil used to produce soy for UK animal feed,” he added.
“Our government – and British companies – need to ensure that none of the commodities we import are fuelling deforestation overseas. Cutting down on meat consumption is an easy thing people can do to help.”
JBS denies selling meat sourced from farms associated with deforestation.
A spokesperson said: “JBS is committed to a sustainable livestock supply chain and has a zero-deforestation policy for cattle across the Amazon region. We do not allow cattle from farms contributing to Amazon deforestation to enter our supply chain.
“The JBS Amazon monitoring system covers more than 280,000 square miles, an area larger than Germany, and assesses more than 50,000 potential cattle suppliers every day.”
The Independent contacted the supermarkets in question for comment.
A spokesperson from Waitrose & Partners said its own-brand corned beef is 100 per cent British.
“Princes supplies us with its brand of tinned corned beef and has previously responded to these allegations,” they said.
“We take deforestation very seriously and would stop working with any supplier that does not share our values or practice the high standards we expect.”
A spokesperson from Princes confirmed the company sourced corned beef products from JBS and has commercial relationships with a number of national retailers.
However, the firm denied that the beef came from illegally deforested areas.
Aerial footage shows Amazon wildfires burning and devastation left behind
The spokesperson said: “We require that all Brazilian sourced beef must come from suppliers that undertake and publish annual independent audits to ensure no purchases are made from farms that have illegally deforested native forests in the Amazon Biome after October 2009.”
Iceland, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s declined to comment.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) made a statement on behalf of Co-Op and Lidl: “Illegal deforestation is completely unacceptable, and retailers are collaborating to tackle deforestation and drive greater uptake of certified sustainable products in their supply chains.
“The retail industry understands consumers need assurance that the products they buy are environmentally responsible and do not contribute to deforestation. Retailers are working with suppliers to move to more sustainable sourcing by providing them with access to training and more information.
“Furthermore, many leading BRC members are signed up to Better Retail Better World which commits them to halting deforestation across all supply chains by 2030.”